Visiting the Air Force Memorial

This post is a guide to visiting the Air Force Memorial, including directions on how to get there and a self-guided tour.

 

For more information on the traditional bomb burst with missing man
that inspired the Air Force Memorial spires, read the design section below.

 


Overview

The Air Force Memorial honors the service and heritage of the men and women of the United States Air Force.

You can see the Air Force Memorial from most of the DC area as its spires reach higher than anything surrounding it. The memorial is in Virginia, just next to the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.


PLAN YOUR VISIT

Due to the memorial’s relatively remote location, it’s important to plan your visit in order to be as efficient with your time as possible.


Operating Hours

The Air Force Memorial is open from 8am-8pm every day except Christmas. Admission and parking are free. There are restrooms located on beside the memorial open to the public.


How to Get Here

The Air Force Memorial is located in Arlington, Virginia off Columbia Pike.

Regardless of how you decide to get here, we recommend using this Google map for directions. If you’re driving, the GPS address is 1 Air Force Memorial Drive.

Below are our tips for visiting on your own, whether by car, public transportation, biking or walking. 

However, most visitors come via an organized bus tour. Several tours come during the day, but most bus tours visit at night.


Parking

Driving to the Air Force Memorial is a great option and parking is free. Spots are limited to 18, but are almost always available. There are also 7 handicapped spots reserved at the north end of the driveway near the administrative building. The only time parking gets to be scarce is during events, some of which you can drive to an some which we recommend using alternative methods of arriving, listed below. If it does become busy, there is additional overflow parking located at the bottom of the Air Force Memorial. 


Public Transit

You can reach the Air Force Memorial easily on foot from one of the two nearby Metro Stations. There is the Pentagon (Blue/Yellow) and Pentagon City (Blue/Yellow) metro stations, both about a 20-minute walk to the Air Force Memorial. 

 

Getting to the Air Force Memorial from Pentagon Metro Station (yellow/blue):

 

Getting to the Air Force Memorial from Pentagon City Metro Station (yellow/blue):

 

 

Bike

You can also bike here. There is even a Capital Bikeshare station right next to the memorial.

We have a post with tips on renting a bike in DC.


Nearby Attractions

Due to the location of the Air Force Memorial, you might find it beneficial to also plan to visit other memorials that are adjacent or nearby, such as:

Be sure to read our guide to all memorials and monuments in Washington, DC.


Events

During the summer, the Summer Concerts Series runs from June-September. These concerts by the U.S. Airforce Band take place all around DC including at the Air Force Memorial. 

You can find a list of events at the Air Force Memorial here.

 


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DESIGN AND SYMBOLISM OF THE MEMORIAL

The idea for a memorial dedicated to men and women who have, are, and will serve in the Air Force (and its predecessor the Army Air Corps) began in 1992. It wasn’t until 2006 that this memorial was finally completed and dedicated. The long-held story states that some Marines (whose memorial is on the other side of Arlington National Cemetery and erected in 1954) didn’t want the Air Force Memorial “within view” of theirs. To be fair, it isn’t … but the Air Force Memorial can be seen from nearly everywhere else.

There are several design elements to the memorial, which was designed by James Ingo Freed, so let’s get started.


The Spires 

The three stainless steel spires rise into the area soaring between 201-270 feet (61-82m).  They are peeled back to represent the contrails of the ‘bombs burst’ maneuver performed by the Air Force Thunderbirds. Usually, there are 4 contrails in the maneuver, but there are only 3 spires. The one missing represents the missing man formation performed by Air Force funeral-fly overs, symbolizing all those lost during their service to the Air Force. 

While there are variations, the missing man formation is an aerial salute performed traditionally at Air Force funeral fly-overs. Four aircrafts fly in a V shape formation low enough over the ceremony for all to see, and one aircraft abruptly pulls up out of the formation while the rest continue in level flight until all aircraft are out of sight. The aircraft pulling up and missing from the formation honors the person(s) who has died and symbolizes their departure. 

 

The number three carries other significance as well. The three spires also represent the three parts of the Air Force: active, reserve, guard and the three main tenets of the Air Force core values:

Integrity First, Service before self, Excellence in all we do
 
These core values are inscribed on the south wall of the memorial, which is located behind the honor guard sculpture we’ll tell you about below. 
 
 

Honor Guard Sculpture 

As you walk in, to your right you’ll see the Honor Guard Sculpture.
 
 
These taller-than-life size statues show an Honor Guard standing at attention. Look closely and you can see the diversity of the Air Force represented in both gender and race.
 

Contemplation Wall 

On the other end of the memorial is a glass wall, the Contemplation Wall. On the glass, you will see another representation of the missing man formation, representing all the airmen who are no longer with us. This is the only depiction of an aircraft in the entire memorial. Looking through this dedication to fallen comrades, you’ll see the Honor Wall made of polished, highly-reflective monolithic Jet Mist granite (as is the south wall) bearing the inscription of all the Medal of Honor recipients from the Air Force. This is the highest medal one can receive in the US military.

 


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GUIDED TOURS AND RANGER TALKS 


Ranger Talks: 

There are no set ranger talks offered at the Air Force Memorial.

 


Guided Sightseeing Tours

Due to the memorials somewhat remote location, it is not included on most tour company itineraries. However, most night bus tours make a stop here.

We recommend USA Guided Tours, but their competitors are also very good. Read about them here.

 


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