Strategic Air Command (SAC) Museum, Omaha

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Omaha Nebraska SAC Museum

USA Omaha sac museum SR-71 Blackbird spy plane
Just inside the door of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum hangs the famous SR-71 Blackbird spy plane below the museum’s glass atrium. The SR-71 was the fastest plane ever flown. In fact, it could fly so high and so fast that Russian anti-aircraft missiles couldn’t reach it. The Air Force didn’t acknowledge its existence until shortly before it was retired. Its mission is now accomplished with spy satellites.

Believe it or not, Omaha, Nebraska is one of the best places to be a plane geek. At least if you like the planes (mostly) of the Cold War era. Offutt Air Force base, just south of Omaha, was the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) until 1992. The SAC headquarters was eventually phased out in favor of a more modern view of our cold war-focused conflicts. Offutt is now the headquarters of the current Strategic Command, reflecting that shift of focus.

Offutt was a huge presence in the Omaha area, not only because of its ranking as the number one target in case of nuclear attack. The military shadow over Omaha was palpable. United States Air Force personnel were everywhere. I had a pretty real connection because my freshman high school locker mate’s father was the commandant of the base, and several other classmates’ fathers were stationed there.

But, as US deterrent strategy moved in another direction from having fleets of bombers poised to send toward the Soviet Union, SAC became less important to our overall defense, and less important to Omaha. However, the current museum is a great place to remind us of the past.

The museum was originally housed at Offutt Air Force Base, and began with its first airplane in 1959. It was originally called the Strategic Aerospace Museum. Over the years, the outdoor museum’s name changed to the Strategic Air Command Museum or SAC Museum. Ownership of the museum transferred from the Air Force to the state of Nebraska in 1970.

The objective of the museum is to preserve and display historic aircraft, missiles, and space vehicles, and provide educational resources.

In 1998, the new museum moved indoors to its current home in Ashland, which is much more accessible to the public. The new building also allowed the aircraft to be moved indoors and protected from the elements to which they had previously been exposed.

The museum building is a 300,000-square-foot (28,000-square-meter) structure that features a glass atrium, two large aircraft display hangars, a traveling exhibit area, a children’s interactive gallery, a theater and event space, a store, an aircraft restoration gallery, and a snack bar. The museum participates in an exhibit exchange program with other national museums and displays them in the traveling exhibit area.

In 2001, the name of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Museum was officially changed to the Strategic Air & Space Museum. In 2015, the museum announced another name change to the current Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, in an effort to reconnect to the museum’s original mission of preserving the history of the Strategic Air Command while promoting interest in aviation and science among the general public.

Probably because of its proximity, SAC established the museum west of Omaha, in the town of Ashland, as a monument to itself. It houses an example of the massive bombers, sleek fighter jets, and other functionary planes such as cargo planes and refueling tankers, from World War II up to the most modern B-1. There are also various missiles standing in front of the building. Missiles that used to be armed with nuclear weapons.

In all, the museum displays 35 airplanes, seven rockets and missiles, and parts of four spacecraft. There are also flight simulators, and other interactive exhibits that tie into the museum’s plan to provide educational programs.

A few examples of the American missile arsenal greet you as you approach the Strategic Air Command Museum entrance. There are still a lot of their successors in nuclear missile silos on the Northern Great Plains in Nebraska, North and South Dakota. Just in case.

The Museum is, of course, dominated by the volume of planes it houses. But there are multiple permanent educational exhibits that illustrate the history of the Air Force from World War II, through Korea and Vietnam, to current space travel. Of particular interest are a general exhibit of World War II strategic bombing tactics and the historic raid on Tokyo in the early days of that war by the B-25 bombers under the command of Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. The museum’s collection includes a B-25.

USA Omaha sac museum b-52 nose
The nose of a well used B-52, the longest serving bomber in the American arsenal. It entered service in 1955 and is still flying today.

My only complaint is that they have absolutely crammed the two aircraft display hangars with too many huge aircraft. I’d like it a lot better if they had more room to spread things out a bit, so you could really get a look at the planes and get a sense of how big they really are. It still amazes me that some of these monsters, many of which I built models of as a young boy, could fly.

USA SAC Museum Omaha U2
The U-2 spy plane like the one shot down over Russia, which led to one of the most tense crises of the Cold War. Below it is a B-17 bomber, the workhorse of the bombing of Germany in World War II. Also crammed in to the SAC Museum are a B-52, a B-36 (the biggest bomber ever built) and various smaller fighters.

Permanent exhibits also include ones dedicated to individuals who served in SAC. There is about the U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down in 1960 over the Soviet Union, and another dedicated to Curtis LeMay, who directed the bombing of Japan during World War II and later became Commander of the Strategic Air Command from 1948 to 1957.

There is another exhibit featuring Ashland, Nebraska native Clayton Anderson, a retired NASA astronaut who flew on two Space Shuttle missions. In 2022, Anderson became the President of the SAC Museum.

USA SAC Museum B-58 bomber
The B-58 Hustler bomber was the first supersonic bomber in the SAC arsenal. It was, for a while, the first line of our nuclear arsenal. It was the plane featured in the apocalyptic film, Fail Safe, in which bombers were accidentally sent against the Soviet Union.
USA sac museum KC-97
Among all the sleek warplanes in the SAC Museum are a few clunky transports, which are beautiful in their own way. Like this KC-97. The KC-97 was used both as a mid air refueling plane and an equipment transport. It was retired in the mid 1970s.

The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum is located about 30 miles west of downtown Omaha just off Interstate 80 in Ashland, Nebraska. The address, if you’re mapping it, is 28210 West Park Highway Ashland, NE 68003.

The Museum is open every day of the year, except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve, when it closes at 2 p.m. From Mondays to Thursdays, admission to the museum is $16 for an adult, $12 for seniors, active duty and retired military members, and $8 for children aged 4-12. From Friday to Sunday, the prices are, respectively, $17.50, $13.50, and $9. Children 3 and under are free. (Prices current as of September 2023.)

Doomsday dread aside, this wonderful museum is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon.

USA Omaha sac museum B-1
The B-1 bomber wasn’t manufactured for very long. But it is still in service as a conventional bomber. For some reason, the Air Force (or President Carter and Congress) didn’t like it, so only a few were built. One of them is parked on the Nebraska prairie on the drive up to the SAC Museum. I’d like to know how they got it there. My guess is some hell of a big truck.

This is an update of a post originally published in 2016.

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