Explore Savannah’s Aviation History

November is National Aviation Month, a time to celebrate the incredible advancements in flight and the history of aviation. In Savannah, we’ve found that this is the place to be for history buffs, aviation enthusiasts, and anyone with a sense of adventure. From historic aircraft to museums, to a deep historical background and opportunities to take to the skies, there are tons of ways to learn about aviation in Savannah, this month and year-round. 

The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force
The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

If you want to hit up some museums, we suggest first going to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. This museum pays homage to the courageous Eighth Air Force, known for its daring daylight bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. Inside, you’ll find an extensive collection of aircraft, artifacts, and immersive exhibits. The star of the show is the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, known as the “City of Savannah.” It’s one of only a few fully restored B-17s in the world. You can explore its interior and gain a profound understanding of the brave crews who flew.  The museum is not just about planes but also a testament to those who served during WWII and the astounding amount who lost their lives throughout the bombings.

The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force is dedicated to Major General Lewis E. Lyle, an influential figure closely linked to its history. Gen Lyle, a World War II veteran, flew numerous missions, notably piloting the “Old Soljer” B-17 for 16 of them. After the war, he devoted himself to supporting the families of fallen servicemen. His vision was to create a place that would forever preserve the stories and sacrifices of Eighth Air Force heroes. Located near the Eighth’s activation site in Savannah, the Mighty Eighth Heritage Center, now the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, became the realization of Gen Lyle’s dream. While historic land battlefields exist, the airborne battles of World War II occurred at 25,000 feet. The museum’s mission is to preserve and present this unique history, ensuring the bravery and dedication of Eighth Air Force veterans are remembered for generations to come.

Another interesting stop to make would be at the Webb Military Museum, located in the heart of Historic Downtown Savannah, the Webb Military Museum beckons history enthusiasts with a captivating journey through military artifacts spanning the American Civil War to Desert Storm. You’ll see Navy, Army and Airforce original uniforms, headgear, and equipment. The owner of the museum puts in a lot of work selecting and up-keeping these relics to pay tribute to the valor of our servicemen and women, across wars and branches. This will be a great chance to reflect on not just how aviation has taken place in combat but how everything about the military has evolved.  

Savannah runs deep with history, we all know that. But there’s a few things about Savannah that might surprise you, especially in the aviation world. The Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport itself has played a significant role in aviation history. Beginning all the way back in 1918 when its first airfield was established at Daffin Park, eventually moving to the site of the present-day Hunter Army Airfield in 1929. The inaugural aircraft to touch down at the Savannah Municipal Airport marked the beginning of Eastern Air Express service between New York City and Miami, Florida, with the airport’s first terminal housed in an old trolley car. In 1932, the airport was officially named Hunter Field in honor of local World War I flying ace Frank Hunter. 

During World War II, the army air corps took control of Hunter Field, and a new airfield named Chatham Field was built at Cherokee Hill. After the war, it was renamed Travis Field in tribute to Air Force Brigadier General Robert Travis and Lieutenant Colonel William Travis. In the 1950s, the federal government relinquished control of Travis Field, allowing Savannah Municipal Airport to reopen as a civilian facility. In 1965, Delta Air Lines introduced all-jet service to Savannah, connecting the city with major destinations. Renovations and expansions in the ensuing decades led to the airport’s renaming as Savannah International Airport in 1983 and the unveiling of a distinctive $43 million terminal in 1994. The airport was once again rebranded in 2002 as Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, serving over 1,700,000 passengers annually today.

Right nextdoor to the Savannah International Airporst sits Gulfstream Aerospace. Since 1967, Savannah has headquartered the world-renowned corporation. To-date, Gulfstream has produced more than 2,000 fleets and has become known for its innovation, forward-thinking, and record-breaking firsts. This includes having the first business jet to cross the Atlantic Ocean nonstop in 1968 and the first business jet to cross Atlantic Ocean using biofuels in 2011. The company also produced the worlds fastest business jet in 2012 with the Gulfstream G650. As recently as 2022, Gulfstream’s G800 took its first flight as the industry’s longest-range aircraft. 

Now if that little history lesson inspired you to fly, you actually can bring that dream to life through Savannah’s unique opportunities. Fly Corps Aviation has just about everything you could want to celebrate aviation month in Savannah, from tours of planes to flight lessons. Yes, they have a flight school that allows you to step into the shoes of a pilot. With a certified flight instructor, you’ll learn the basics of flying, including takeoffs and landings. There are several programs that you can take and different pathways to fulfill the need or desire you have to fly. These are fun activities to do anytime you’re in the mood for some Savannah culture and aviation history, not just during National Aviation Month. Keep in mind that there is no shortage of historical activities to do in Savannah, these are just a few of the many museums.