Usually when you go to these plane museums, you can't get up that close to the aircraft. You certainly can't walk under them, and you hardly ever get the chance to go inside. You're damn lucky if you get to ride in one in flight (if you have enough money to spare).
So since I missed the Van Nuys Airport tour a couple years ago in celebration of their anniversary, I was eager to find a way to check it out – which presented itself in the form of the Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour, a roving museum of historic World War II Aircraft, including the world's only flying B-29 Superfortress...
...adorably nicknamed the "Fifi," fittingly on display at the Van Nuys Airport, which was converted into a military base in 1942 at the outbreak of World War II,
It was this behemoth's cockpit that was open for tours...
...accessible by ducking low under the craft and entering the bomb bay, where very heavy explosive devices were once armed.
After climbing a ladder into the forward cockpit compartment...
...you can turn around and see the only passageway between the front and the back of a plane: a dark tunnel...
...lit only by a porthole.
The navigators, pilots, flight engineers and bombardiers had more reason to go to the back of the plane from the front than the other way around, since that's where the bathroom was located.
In addition to navigational equipment, the cockpit also houses an elaborate flight engineer's panel...
...and a wide expanse of glass out the nose of the plane, where the bombardier would sit so he could see everything (but also be most exposed to attack).
The exit for visitors is through a hatch in the floor...
...depositing you on the ground, under the nose, by the front wheel.
It's hard for any other plane in the same exhibit to compare, but especially when you've seen enough of these kinds of planes, you realize the remarkable aspects are often in the details.
The tail designs.
The warnings and instructions.
And the markings of the various manufacturers, pilots, and squadrons responsible for these aircraft.
Not satisfied with my brief encounter at the Van Nuys Airport, I visited the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, just outside of the airport.
It was founded by a veteran bomber pilot from the 100th Bomb Group...
...and its interior is adorned with military relics.
Even better, its lovely patio is directly adjacent to the airport's runways...
...making it a prime location (just like the Proud Bird at LAX) to watch the planes land and take off, and mingle with travelers and pilots as the sun sets.
You can also sit at certain seats in the dining room equipped with headphones to listen to the chatter of Air Traffic Control, living vicariously through those who are able to take flight.
For the timebeing, I am a flightless bird.
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Santa Monica Airport
Photo Essay: Long Beach Airport's 90th Anniversary Fly-In
Photo Essay: The Planes of LAX's Flight Path Learning Center Museum
Photo Essay: The Proud Bird Restaurant, Before Closing