Hill Aerospace Museum attendance numbers rise

Airplanes are having a big year in 2009.

This year, 110,595 visitors had passed through the museum's door, up 13.9 percent from the 2008 numbers through July, said Scott Wirz, Hill Aerospace Museum's director.

"We are having a great year so far," said museum curator Tom Hill. "Our visitation is up. Our revenue in our gift shop is up. So far, so good." Hill Aerospace Museum was founded in 1982 as part of the U.S. Air Force Heritage Program and first opened to the public in 1987. It moved to its current facility on 30 acres on the northwest corner of Hill Air Force Base in 1991 and hosted its millionth visitor in spring 1996. Late last year, the museum hosted its 3 millionth visitor, Hill said. The museum exhibits more than 80 military aircraft, missiles and aerospace vehicles on the grounds and inside the Maj. Gen. Rex A. Hadley and the Lindquist Stewart Fighter galleries.

The museum also has a large collection of ordnance, aerospace ground equipment, military vehicles, uniforms and other historical artifacts.

Many of the museum's volunteers, who give guided tours, are aviation veterans.

"One of the nice things about this museum is, normally, the volunteer standing next to you talking about the aircraft has actually flown the aircraft they are telling you about," Hill said.

"A lot of our volunteers have flown these planes or worked on these planes at some point in their lives."

As one of 13 official Air Force field museums, the Hill facility attracts visitors from all over the globe.

"There was a Japanese family who was coming to the states on a vacation," Hill said. "They saw us on the Internet and changed their entire American itinerary so they could come and see us."

The museum is free and open seven days a week. Hill said the museum's largest visitation rates came in the late 1990s.

Visitor numbers increased every year from 2004 to 2007, but saw a slight decline in 2008. Hill said the upswing in 2009 is a good indicator that last year's drop was an anomaly.

"We don't do a whole lot of advertising, so some people just aren't aware of how much we have," he said.

"It seems like every day someone will come up to me and say, 'I've lived here my entire life and I had no idea you guys had all this.' But, we're on the rise again this year, so we want to keep that going."

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