Commemorative Air Force - Arizona Wing

A couple weeks ago I was in Phoenix, Arizona and found myself with a few hours to kill before a later flight home. True to its nickname as the Valley of the Sun, the late February weather was incredibly good, while folks back home in Tennessee were being slammed with drastic cold and ice. I fought the temptation to just head to the airport and kill time there, and decided that at the very least I’d take the opportunity to drive around and enjoy the great weather.

As I hopped in my car I glanced over at the passenger seat, and noticed a brochure I’d picked up a couple days earlier at the hotel kiosk. The flier featured a WWII airplane on the front, and so it made for an easy decision to visit Falcon Field in Mesa, the home of the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. Many of you will be more familiar with this organization by its original name - the Confederate Air Force. The CAF is a non-profit organization with locations in several states, and a few in other countries, and a primary mission of preserving and displaying older - and primarily military - aircraft.


The Mesa location is actually one of their larger ones, and has a great variety of aircraft, spanning from the WWI area through the 1970s. The CAF occupies a corner of Falcon Field with its two runways, just south of the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway, and maybe 20 minutes east of Sky Harbor International airport. I wheeled my rental car into their parking lot, took a good notice of the ripe oranges in the grove across the street, and strolled down the entry walk with plaques noting the lives of prominent Arizona aviators. When I entered the museum the gentleman manning the desk noticed the brochure I’d picked up at the hotel, as I’d forgotten to take it from my shirt pocket. It was actually also a coupon for a few dollars discount, which was much appreciated, and later spent in their nice gift shop.


I have to admit this was my first trip to a CAF facility, and that I know very little about these type airplanes. Like a lot of folks who grew up on Black Sheep Squadron I can spot a Corsair or a P51 Mustang, but that’s about it. The museum is basically a self-guided place, with docents scattered about, which I really liked. Everyone I spoke with was very friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about the aircraft. Because my time was somewhat limited, I took a quick pace through the first hanger, and then stepped outside to watch a plane get prepped for a flight. This is what I would call a working museum, and it is possible to buy a ride in some of the old warbirds. You’ll want to schedule in advance - and save up, they’re a little pricey - but I think such a ride has now landed on my bucket list.


The second hanger holds a B-17 called Sentimental Journey, and it’s an incredible sight with its nose art featuring the fabulous Betty Grable. We were given the chance to climb up and walk through the old bomber, and I was struck by how cramped it was inside, which seemed contrary to all the old war movies I’ve watched. The walkthrough was included in admission, and I appreciated the stories told by the gentleman who was stationed at the bomber. Inside the hallway between the hangars there was an interesting display of painted flight jackets from the WWII era, as well as other smaller displays, and a movie playing inside one of the rooms.


I ended up spending almost three hours walking and learning, and luckily did have time to revisit the first hangar. My final stop was the gift shop, and even though I was a little rushed to get to my flight back to Nashville, I did take the time to pick up a souvenir - a t-shirt featuring that iconic pose of Betty Grable. I highly recommend this museum if you have a couple or three hours to spare. It’s affordable, fun, and with people there who engage you at every turn. You can find out more about it at I had a great time, and you will too.


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