South Dakota Air & Space Museum

Entrance area near the Ellsworth AFB gate
Entrance area to the South Dakota Air and Space Museum
(staff photo)

The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located just outside the gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base and is a major national repository of historic Air Force airplanes. It is free and open to the public.

The facility features a series of indoor exhibits and displays, and an outdoor airpark of restored, historic aircraft and related equipment.

It is also the starting point for bus tours of Ellsworth AFB.

It is one of nearly twenty official field units of the Museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.

Aircraft on Display

Most of the more than twenty aircraft in the collection are located outdoors, and are accessible via flat, paved sidewalks or paths. Additional aircraft and missile displays are located indoors.

A total of 3,970 B-29 Superfortress aircraft were built during production at four assembly plants during World War II. Yet only about 22 complete B-29 airframes have survived and are on display in the United States, including the B-29 "Legal Eagle II" on display here.

Among the aircraft on display are the following:

  • Scene from the airpark
    Scene from the airpark
    (staff photo)
    B-29 Superfortress
  • B-52D Stratofortress
  • B-1B Lancer
  • EC-135 Stratotanker
  • F-84F Thunderstreak
  • FB-111A Aardvark
  • T-33 Shooting Star
  • C-45 Expeditor
  • C-47 Skytrain
  • F-100 Super Sabre
  • F-101 Voodoo
  • F-105 Thunderchief
  • F-86 Sabre
  • B-25 Mitchell III
  • EB-57B Canberra
  • C-54 Skymaster
  • T-38 Talon
  • B-26 Invader
  • C-131D Samaritan
  • A-7D Corsair II
  • other aircraft and related equipment

Location, Parking, Admission and Hours

Part of the extensive indoor exhibit areas at the South Dakota Air & Space Museum
Part of the extensive indoor exhibit areas at the South Dakota Air & Space Museum (staff photo)

We visited in September 2014, and highly recommended it to everyone with an interest in the United States Air Force, Ellsworth AFB, and South Dakota aviation history.

It is located at 2890 Rushmore Drive, Ellsworth AFB, SD 57706, with convenient access from Interstate Highway I-90.

Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Parking is also free. It is staffed by volunteers, who do a great job of keeping the facility open and operating, restoring aircraft, and building new exhibits with only limited funding.

A charge is required for the Ellsworth AFB bus tours, which typically run from mid-May through mid-September. Security checks are required. Visit the website of the museum for details on the base and Minuteman tours.

Inside, visitors can view a variety of exhibits, dioramas, photographs, maps, memorabilia and videos about the history of the Air Force, Ellsworth AFB, and South Dakota aviation.

The indoor exhibit areas are typically closed in January and February for updating. We recommend you contact the staff prior to your trip to confirm opening days and hours.

All aircraft exhibits are located outdoors in an airpark along paved sidewalks and flat paths. On hot days, be sure to bring bottled water, and use sunscreen.

Also located on the premises is the Gift Shop, featuring shirts, caps, airplane models, patches, photographs and many other items related to the Air Force, the Strategic Air Command, Ellsworth AFB, and South Dakota.

For more information, phone (605) 385-5189, or visit the website of the museum.

 

A Brief History of Ellsworth Air Force Base ... And the Base Today

In January of 1942, the U.S. War Department established Rapid City Army Air Base as a training location for B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber units.

B-1B Lancers on the flightline at Ellsworth AFB in 2011
B-1B Lancers on the flightline at Ellsworth AFB in 2011 (Photo courtesy of Ellsworth Air Force Base)

In July of 1945 Rapid City AAB was placed on standby status as the Army Air Forces began to demobilize with the pending end of World War ii.

Rapid City AAB was again reactivated in October of 1945, and designated a permanent facility by the Army Air Force. The base briefly trained weather reconnaissance and combat squadrons using P-61 Black Widow, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, and B-25 Mitchell aircraft. The airfield was again temporarily closed from September 1946 – March 1947 for a major construction program to upgrade the temporary wartime facilities to that of a permanent base.

When operations resumed in 1947 the base was a new United States Air Force asset. The primary unit assigned to the base was the new 28th Bombardment Wing (28 BMW) flying the B-29 Superfortress.

B-52H Stratofortress from Minot AFB lands at Ellsworth AFB in March of 2014
B-52H Stratofortress from Minot AFB lands at Ellsworth AFB in March of 2014
(Photo courtesy of Ellsworth Air Force Base)

In July 1949, the 28 BMW began conversion from B-29s to the huge B-36 Peacemaker. To provide air defense of the base, the United States Army established the Ellsworth AFB Defense Area in 1957 and constructed Nike-Ajax Surface-to-air missile sites for air defense.

In 1986, the base and the 28 BMW made extensive preparations to phase out the B-52 fleet and become the second home for the advanced B-1B Lancer.

Today, Ellsworth AFB continues to be a major active military facility and a major contributor to the economy of the Rapid City area.

The host unit at Ellsworth is the 28th Bomb Wing (28 BW) assigned to the Air Combat Command's Twelfth Air Force. The 28 BW is one of only two B-1B Lancer strategic bomber wings in the United States Air Force, the other being the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, Texas.

The base is named in honor of Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth (1911–1953), who was killed when his RB-36 Peacemaker aircraft crashed near Nut Cove, Newfoundland during a training flight.

Photographs of the Outdoor Airpark

B-1B Lancer, S/N 83-0067, of the U.S. Air Force, South Dakota Air & Space Museum, at the gate of Ellsworth AFB
B-1B Lancer, S/N 83-0067, of the U.S. Air Force
B-1B Lancer, S/N 83-0067, tail section
B-1B Lancer, S/N 83-0067, tail section
Undercarriage and landing gear on B-1B Lancer, S/N 83-0067
Undercarriage and landing gear on B-1B Lancer, S/N 83-0067
B-29 Superfortress "Legal Eagle II", S/N 484112, Buzz Number BF-112
B-29 Superfortress "Legal Eagle II", S/N 484112, Buzz Number BF-112
Left cockpit view of the U.S. Air Force B-29 Superfortress "Legal Eagle II"
Left cockpit view of the U.S. Air Force B-29 Superfortress "Legal Eagle II"

 

 

B-52D Stratofortress, S/N 56-0657
B-52D Stratofortress, S/N 56-0657
Right fuselage view of the U.S. Air Force EC-135, S/N 10262
Right fuselage view of the U.S. Air Force EC-135, S/N 10262
U.S. Air Force C-45 Expeditor, S/N 40796
U.S. Air Force C-45 Expeditor, S/N 40796
Nose view of C-47 Skytrain, N226GB
Nose view of C-47 Skytrain, N226GB
U.S. Air Force C-54 Skymaster, S/N 272592
U.S. Air Force C-54 Skymaster, S/N 272592
F-100A Super Sabre, S/N 53-1553
F-100A Super Sabre, S/N 53-1553
F-101B Voodoo, S/N 90426
F-101B Voodoo, S/N 90426
F-101B Voodoo, S/N 90426, tail section
F-101B Voodoo, S/N 90426, tail section
F-105 Thunderchief, S/N 57839
F-105 Thunderchief, S/N 57839
F-84F Thunderstreak, S/N 0-28886
F-84F Thunderstreak, S/N 0-28886
Tail section of U.S. Air Force F-84F Thunderstreak, S/N 0-28886
Tail section of U.S. Air Force F-84F Thunderstreak, S/N 0-28886
F-86 Sabre "Miss Janet", S/N 0-31302, NY National Guard
F-86 Sabre "Miss Janet", S/N 0-31302, NY National Guard
T-33 Shooting Star, S/N 70590, of the 1st Air Force
T-33 Shooting Star, S/N 70590, of the 1st Air Force
Cockpit view of T-33 Shooting Star, S/N 70590 ... Captain Paul Carstens
Cockpit view of T-33 Shooting Star, S/N 70590 ... Captain Paul Carstens

 

 

B-25 Mitchell III, S/N 34030, personal plane of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II
B-25 Mitchell III, S/N 34030, personal plane of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II
FB-111A Aardvark, S/N 80248, Rapid City, South Dakota
FB-111A Aardvark, S/N 80248, Rapid City, South Dakota
"Free for All" nose art on FB-111A Aardvark, S/N 80248
"Free for All" nose art on FB-111A Aardvark, S/N 80248
EB-57B Canberra, S/N 0-21548
EB-57B Canberra, S/N 0-21548
U.S. Air Force A-7D Corsair, S/N 74739
U.S. Air Force A-7D Corsair, S/N 74739
Convair C-131D Samaritan, 50292, of the U.S. Air Force
Convair C-131D Samaritan, 50292, of the U.S. Air Force

Photographs of the Indoor Exhibit Areas

One of the many indoor exhibit areas at the South Dakota Air & Space Museum
Indoor exhibit areas
Plaque honoring Brigadier General Richard Ellsworth, namesake of Ellsworth AFB
Plaque honoring Brigadier General Richard Ellsworth, namesake of Ellsworth AFB

Interactive Map of the Ellsworth AFB Area

For More Information

Ellsworth Air Force Base official website

South Dakota Air and Space Museum official website


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