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Valiant Air Command warbird museum is part of Florida’s Space Coast, an attractive activity-packed coastal area located just 45 minute’s drive from Orlando. If you are heading to Disney World, you should definitely add a few days to your trip to explore this area. Florida’s Space Coast is filled with amazing things to see such as the Kennedy Space Centre, Cocoa Beach, the largest turtle nesting grounds in the USA, and more water based activities than you can poke a kayak paddle at.

Valiant Air Command was a surprise hit with our family as we had mainly come to Florida’s Space Coast to see the Kennedy Space Centre. We originally saw this aviation museum which houses more than 50 aircraft as an ‘add on’ rather than a main event. However, it turned out to be a highlight of our visit. Valiant Air Command is different to most aviation museums in that many of the aircraft, even some of the most historic ones, are able and ready to fly.

Valiant Air Command
Just a handful of the many aircraft at Valiant Air Command
Valiant Air Command
Vietnam era aircraft can be found in the 2nd hangar

If you want to see some of these impressive aircraft in action or even go for a spin in one, time your visit to coincide with the yearly Space Coast Warbird Airshow which takes place around March each year. Flights are also available at other times of the year but the show is apparently spectacular and even features the famous Blue Angels acrobatic team. We didn’t get to see them in action on our visit but we did get to see one of their sleek blue planes.

Valiant Air Command
A4 Skyhawk which belongs to the Blue Angels aerobatic team
Valiant Air Command
We loved listening to the volunteer guides

However, the volunteers who make the museum come alive by sharing the history of the aircraft and personal accounts of their own aviation adventures more than made up for any disappointment. Most guides are retired veterans and it is a privilege to spend time with them. When we entered the museum, we were warmly greeted by the receptionist and one of the museum’s directors and given a quick rundown about the museum and what we could see and do. I was especially excited to be here as many of the aircraft on display were a part of my childhood from watching Hollywood depictions of gallant airmen to documentaries on many of the aircraft in front of me and building countless models which decorated my childhood bedroom.

Valiant Air Command
Valiant Air Command entrance

Inside the massive main hanger we discovered a vast array of aircraft ranging from WWI biplanes to an ultra modern and still airworthy F16 jet fighter, an aircraft that has a remarkable history with the 9/11 New York tragedy as it flew over Manhattan to protect the city. Here we met the first of our volunteer guides. He offered to take us on a tour of the hangar and get us inside their museum’s star attraction, a C47 transport aircraft known as the Tico Belle, something which is available to every visitor provided they are accompanied inside the aircraft by a guide.

Valiant Air Command
F16 which flew over Manhattan
Valiant Air Command
We got to go inside the C47 Tico Belle

By now my family was now looking a bit apprehensive due to my obvious enthusiasm, the size of the museum and the thought of lengthy tours of every hangar. However, our guide soon had all of us enthralled with his tales and the history of each of the aircraft. The museum’s prized C47 aircraft is a veteran of WWII and the Cold War where it served as a paratroop transport aircraft in the D-Day invasion of France and later the Berlin airlift when the German capital was cutoff by the Soviet Union in 1948.

It didn’t take my family long before they completely got into the ‘aircraft stuff’ and were no longer looking at the exit. I have to admit to being a little surprised when they took their time in the main hangar and were then eagerly and asking our guide what other things they could see. This has never happened at any other aviation museum. It is the stories and personal touch at this museum which makes it so special, especially for visitors who aren’t quite as aircraft crazy as I am.

Valiant Air Command
More aircraft in the main hangar

The museum has three hangers with the largest hangar housing the bulk of the collection of 50 aircraft including the C47, early biplanes and the latest jet fighters. The second hanger is dedicated to the Vietnam war and Cold War era aircraft such as the F4 Phantom, F105 Thunder Chief and the cockpit area of a newly restored B52 bomber. The museum offers an amazing experience with the B52 which involves climbing inside and sitting in the cockpit as the dialogue from a bombing mission over Vietnam plays in the background. Coincidentally, you can hear one of the volunteers at Valiant Air Command in the original recording. By now my family was hooked and loving the museum. Our guide soon had our 15 year old son in the cockpit of a US Navy trainer, and regaled him with tales of his flying adventures with the Navy and how he got up to all sorts of mischief.

Valiant Air Command
F4 Phantom and yet more aircraft
Valiant Air Command
Our son in a US Navy training aircraft

The third hangar is dedicated to the restoration of the aircraft, not only for Valiant Air Command museum but for other aviation museums who depend on the volunteer mechanics’ incredible level of expertise. Many of whom worked at the factories that made the aircraft before they retired. When another guide took us through the working restoration hangar we were able to wander past fascinating bits and pieces of aircraft and a Tomcat (a.k.a. the Top Gun plane) that was mid-restoration. We even got to see one of the mechanics working on the plane and could ask questions.

Valiant Air Command
F14 Tomcat in the middle of its restoration process

Around one quarter of the aircraft on display are airworthy and fly on a regular basis, although the biggest problem now is finding pilots with the experience to fly them. Many of the 1950s era jet aircraft are highly sensitive and very hands on to fly. Our guide also pointed out the aircraft that are privately owned and flown by residents who have the money to buy and restore military aircraft. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be me who was looking at my watch and telling my family it was time to go.

We had spent far longer at this amazing museum than we had planned. On leaving, we were approached by another volunteer who has one last story to tell and it was a cracker. The aircraft on display in the museum’s foyer is an F4f Wildcat, a very rare early WWII Navy fighter. It was lost in Lake Michigan after the pilot who was training had an engine failure on takeoff and ditched the aircraft from the carrier he was training on.

Valiant Air Command
We couldn’t believe this aircraft had been at the bottom of a lake for 70 years

The aircraft was recovered from the lake bed in 2012, some 70 years after it crashed, and restored to near flying condition. Something which was amazing in itself given the terrible condition it was in. As we said farewell to the volunteers and walked out to the car, my family couldn’t stop talking about what a great time they had and how amazing the museum was. Most people come to Florida’s Space Coast to visit the Kennedy Space Center but don’t miss Valiant Air Command.

Disclosure: The writers visited Valiant Air Command as guests of Florida’s Space Coast. They would not hesitate to return as paying guests, especially if they could time their visit to take in the Space Coast Warbird Airshow.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay while you’re visiting Valiant Air Command and the Kennedy Space Centre, we have done a detailed write up on the nearby TownePlace Suites Titusville Kennedy Space Center.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.