The Carolinas Aviation Museum – Well Worth Visiting

The first stop of the second day of my South Carolina/North Carolina road trip was the Carolinas Aviation Museum located at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, NC. As aviation museums go, it’s not very large, nowhere near the size of the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB or the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, but it is very much worth a visit. It is a Smithsonian affiliated museum and part of its collection is also on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum. Its collection features both military (mostly Navy and Marine Corps) and commercial aircraft, but the centerpiece of the museum is Airbus A320 N106US, the aircraft that was ditched in the Hudson River by its crew on 15 January 2019 after multiple large bird strikes. It’s only fitting that N106US end up in Charlotte since US Airways’ largest hub was in Charlotte (it has since merged with American Airlines and American Airlines has a large hub at Charlotte) and the flight’s destination was Charlotte Douglas IAP. As a bonus for fans of military aviation, you can also see a portion of the North Carolina Air National Guard 145th Airlift Wing’s ramp from the museum parking lot.

The Carolinas Aviation Museum at Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Part of the 145th AW facility, including two of their C-17s, visible from the Carolinas Aviation Museum

The Carolinas Aviation Museum has a varied collection of military aircraft; given that the state of North Carolina is home to MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS New River, it’s not surprising that it features four Marine Corps aircraft. It also features three US Navy aircraft and a joint US Navy/NACA test aircraft. The first aircraft you see when you walk through the museum’s front door is a replica Sopwith Camel. When you first walk into the hangar where most of the aircraft are, one of the first aircraft you see is a Stearman Kaydet. Some of the museum’s military aircraft have histories behind them. The F-14D, Bu No 161166, was the last F-14 to drop ordinance in combat on a mission over Iraq. The A-7E, Bu No 155971, was one of the last A-7s to see combat while deployed to Operation Desert Storm on the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). The CH-46D, Bu No 153389, was used on a rescue mission during the Vietnam War on which a crewman’s performance resulted in a Congressional Medal of Honor.

Outside of the museum’s hangar, as you make your way back to the gift shop and entrance/exit is a C-130E ABCCC. You don’t see EC-130s very often and this one just happens to have a significant history. The EC-130E, 62-1857, took part in Operation Eagle Claw, the rescue attempt of American hostages in Iran in 1980, as REPUBLIC 5. Another EC-130E on the mission was destroyed when an RH-53 helicopter collided with it, but 62-1857 survived the mission and went on to continue serving until it was retired in 2013, having accumulated over twice as many flight hours as it was originally designed for.

The civilian and commercial aircraft in the museum’s collection also form an interesting group. One of the first aircraft in the museum’s hangar is a replica Wright Flyer, which was the first powered airplane to attain sustained flight near Kitty Hawk, NC on 17 December 1903. Just below the replica Wright Flyer is a Savoia Marchetti S.56C; one of only two surviving S.56Cs, it’s a significant aircraft because Zachary Smith Reynolds (of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco family) used an S.56C on a 10,000 mile around the world flight. The DC-3, N44V, represents the strong connection between the Carolinas and Piedmont Airlines. The museum’s Ercoupe is a fascinating little airplane designed in the late 1930s as an attempt to simply flight controls.

The centerpiece of the Carolinas Aviation Museum is Airbus A320 N106US. N106US was US Airways Flight 1549 from New York to Charlotte on 15 January 2009. Shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia airport, Flight 1549 flew through a flock of Canadian Geese, striking multiple birds causing damage to the aircraft and the loss of both engines. The crew, under the command of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, safely ditched the aircraft in the Hudson River. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries and all of the passengers and crew were safely recovered from the river. N106US is now part of a large display at the museum that also includes personal items from passengers that were on the flight as well as displays and videos that tell the story of what happened to Flight 1549.

Yesterday, before I started working on this blog post, I saw the museum post across their social media that they will be moving to a new facility in the future. The museum, the City of Charlotte, and the Charlotte Douglas IAP will be working together on plans for a new location so that the airport can use the current location for more private aviation space. Hopefully, the new location will be bigger and allow the museum to grow beyond what their current location limits them to. This could definitely be good news for the museum. The Carolinas Aviation Museum is definitely worth the trip to Charlotte for; it was the primary reason I included Charlotte on my road trip and I’m glad I did.

Most of the inside photos in this post were taken with my Google Pixel 3 phone in “Night Sight” mode. Night Sight is designed for taking photos in dark conditions and I found it to be great for taking photos inside of museums. Some museums are dark inside and others discourage the use of flash photography for preservation reasons, so the Night Sight mode enabled me to take better photos in the museums without using a flash. If you’ve got a Google phone and haven’t tried out Night Sight yet, I highly recommend it for any low light environment.