Nestled among the verdant, rolling hills of western South Dakota, adjacent to historic Ellsworth Air Force Base, is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. Focusing on aircraft from the early Cold War to the present day, there’s everything from an enormous B-52 bomber to a B-1B Lancer.
The “space” part of the name isn’t just for show. There’s an entire Titan I ICBM on display as well as Nike Ajax and Minuteman missiles. The latter is especially appropriate, given how many Minuteman launch sites there were () in the area.
On a brutally hot midsummer day, I decided to check out some of the amazing aircraft at this small and impressive museum. Here’s a look around.
One of the most impressive aircraft in the museum’s collection is on display right as you arrive. Practically peering over the sign is a B-1B Lancer, wings swept back and looking every bit as fast as it can be.
Capable of Mach 1.25, the 1B was a change from the original design. The 1A, while outwardly similar, was capable of Mach 2.2. The military decided it didn’t need a bomber that fast since unmanned missiles would be better suited for the task. The 1B’s condition here is excellent. You can take great views of it from all sides and even sit underneath to escape the relentless sun. You can see one of the only remaining B-1As at thein Denver, which I’ve also toured.
Of course, this isn’t the only impressive aircraft. A meticulously restored and maintained B-29 would be the centerpiece of many museums, and is no exception. In one corner is a B-52, an aircraft so big that most museums don’t have the space to store them. It features the black belly and camouflage top typical of its type during the Vietnam War.
It’s not just bombers here, either. Several of the Century Series fighters including the F-100, F-101, F-102, and F-105 are on display. It’s only missing my favorite, the F-104, though you can see some close-ups of that in other museums I’ve toured.
Going back in time a bit, there’s a WWII-era C-47 cargo aircraft and an A-26 with nose guns bristling.
Another particularly impressive aircraft looks like just another B-25 from a distance. It’s actually a VB-25J, the VIP transport variant. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself used this aircraft during WWII.
Skies above South Dakota
There’s a lot to see in this part of South Dakota, not least the natural beauty of the Badlands and the Black Hills National Forest. You can also tour a and one of the best in the world (yes, that Saab) — where you definitely wouldn’t expect it.
The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is worth checking out if you’re in the Rapid City area. Most impressively, the museum is free.
If your travel plans aren’t bringing you to the Mount Rushmore State anytime soon, check out the gallery above.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.