Equipment for the heat of battle resides in a couple of fiercely air-conditioned museums in the fiery-right-now Phoenix desert. Beat the heat and learn something.
An extraordinary 1933 Lockheed Vega monoplane is spending the summer at Mesa’s Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona Aviation Museum. The six-passenger craft was never in service with the U.S. military, but during restorations required after three private-owner crashes, it was emblazoned with the 1930s-era markings of the Army Air Corps, precursor to the U.S. Air Force. On exhibit as an example of Vegas purchased by the Air Corps in 1931, this particular specimen is further distinguished by its aluminum fuselage, which indicates it was one of just nine built by the Detroit Aircraft Corporation; earlier editions were plywood-skinned and built in California. Also on view: great planes from WWII (maintained in flying condition), pieces from a B-17 Flying Fortress lost in action, enemy artifacts, and exhibits about Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and Tuskegee Airmen.
Phoenix’s Hall of Flame Fire Museum showcases row after row of heat-tested vehicles, hydrants, helmets and hoses from as long ago as 1725. Equipment that once fought in fire departments in the United States, England, Austria, Japan, France and beyond, then underwent painstaking restoration, now retires in air-conditioned eternity. Most pieces are for your eyes only—no touching, trying on or climbing aboard permitted—and are labeled either with descriptive plaques or numbers that correspond to the guidebook you’re handed at the door. Display cases hold vast collections of fire helmets and uniform patches (look for your hometown representative). Hands-on opportunities: a two-room “safety house” and kid-sized uniforms for role-playing, and a 1950s American LaFrance fire engine from Miami, Ariz. that visitors can sit inside.