The last thing I expected to find on the historic route of US 66 at the edge of the small town of Weatherford, population 10,833 (according to the 2010 census), in western Oklahoma was not only a first-rate air and space museum, but one affiliated with the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. But there it was. And who could miss the F-4 Phantom that is part of the General Thomas P. Stafford Air & Space Museum and Airport.
What’s really interesting about this 40,000-square-foot museum is that it is incorporated with the terminal of the Weatherford Airport (OJA), a city-owned nontower airport with a single 5,100-by-75-foot concrete runway. Guessing that the eponymous airport and museum were named for hometown boy who went to the moon with the Apollo program didn’t demand a degree in rocket science.
Stafford increased the population of Weatherford in 1930, but what was really interesting is that his mother arrived in the state in a covered wagon, most likely with Oklahoma Land Rush into the “Unassigned Lands” in 1889. She lived to see her only child fly into space on Gemini 6 and 9, and to the moon as commander of Apollo X. And I was surprised to learn that his command of the Apollo-Soyuz mission garnered him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Named a Smithsonian Affiliate in 2011, the museum started as a simple display case in the Weatherford Airport Terminal. It now displays more than 3,500 artifacts, many of them having logged real time in the atmosphere and beyond it. A number of them are on loan from the Smithsonian, including the pressure suit Stafford wore on Apollo X. Another surprise is that exhibits cover the spectrum of aviation, from the replica Wright Flyer and Spirit of St. Louis to the expected aerospace artifacts such as an F-86, Mig-21, F-16, and a Titan II rocket, and an Apollo Command and Service Module.
Time spent examining the museum’s Smithsonian-quality exhibits is well worth the $7 admission ($5 for 55 & older, AAA members, and military, $2 for students 18 and younger; active duty military and children 5 and younger are free). It presents not only a concise and comprehensive look at aviation; it is an unspoken statement of Weatherford’s appreciation and support of it. In doing a bit more research when I returned home, I learned that the museum is a nonprofit organization owned and operated by the City of Weatherford, Oklahoma. Ever evolving, it is worth a visit just to see the unique display of its most recent addition, an F-104 Starfighter mounted in a zoom-climb outside the museum’s entrance, with its pointy nose aimed skyward. –Scott Spangler, Editor