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Planes, trains and automobiles

The AirZoo offers flight simulators.

Published August 19, 2012  Battle Creek Enquirer

Summertime is a great time to visit Michigan, except when it rains for four straight days. Locals were thrilled by the rain, given our drought conditions, but for visitors, it put a damper on all the terrific outdoor activities we might have considered.

What to do with a 13-year-old boy in the deluge? Luckily for us, the AirZoo was only a short drive away in Kalamazoo. What could be better than 50 rare and historic aircraft and multiple thrill rides like the Full-Motion Flight Simulators and the 3D/4D Missions Theater?

Entering through the cloud tunnel, we found the enormous hangar filled with huge planes telling our country’s history. We headed immediately to the flight simulator, so the kids could hang upside down and barrel roll their very own airplane. These simulators are the most advanced full-motion flight simulators in the world available to civilians. You can also use the machine guns to strafe the enemy; be still, my pounding heart!

I did join three bugs and the crew of Apollo 11 for a trip to the moon. Missions Theater is a 4D digital theater where you see, feel and smell the first space travel where man and bug walked on the moon. I didn’t know that three tween-aged flies fixed a critical system so the flight capsule could actually land.

My favorite plane was the SR-71B Blackbird, a huge spy aircraft used during the Cold War. In the next gigantic hangar was a new group of displays with a focus on space travel, among other exhibits.

What is great about the AirZoo is that it combines fun with learning. For example, I didn’t know much about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), who were the first women in history to fly U.S. military aircraft, making a large contribution in the fight for America’s freedom. It was sad to note that when the men started returning from the war, these women were sent home with little thanks and often had to buy their own plane tickets.

Historic Greenfield Village offers buildings from every time period from pre-colonial to the 19th century.

The next day the skies were still threatening, so we decided to take umbrellas and visit historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn. If you’re not familiar with this destination, it is a collection of historic buildings originally brought together by Henry Ford and preserved in a living history outdoor museum.

Our first stop was the Model-T dispatch barn, so we could take a ride around the Village in a 100-year-old Model-T convertible. We got a great sense of the layout of all the areas. The Eagle Tavern was our next destination—an 1831 stagecoach stop for a sit-down meal based on recipes from the 1840s.  Trout and roast beef came with a bowl of hot muffins and rolls, bread and butter pickles and a pitcher of sarsaparilla.

We rushed off to Railroad Junction, which featured the only working late 19th-century roundhouse in the Midwest brought from Marshall, Michigan to its current home. Taking the steam train around the circumference of the park allowed us to recover from lunch.

Living history tells the story of slavery.

In quick succession, we met Thomas Edison outside his Menlo Park workshop and Orville, Wilbur and Susan Wright on the porch of their Dayton, Ohio home, all played by costumed actors. The most moving moment was outside the Susquehanna Plantation House, where two accomplished actors reenacted slave narratives and songs from the Civil War era.

The hand carved wooden carousel at Greenfield Village.

We traveled the last few miles on the antique carousel, carried by hand-carved animals of all kinds. Plane, trains, automobiles and living history filled two days very nicely with unique Michigan destinations, the AirZoo and Greenfield Village.

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