Hey there. I’m Hannah. I’m an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, and I’m the host of a podcast dedicated to exploring Iceland’s museums. Why? Because Iceland has a staggering 165 museums (that’s way more museums per person than most places in the world), and most of them are fantastic places run by fascinating people who are passionate about their institutions and communities.
I launched the Museums in Strange Places podcast for anyone who loves Iceland, museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. In each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity. If you’ve got suggestions for which museum I should visit next, send me a tweet @hannah_rfh.
The Icelandic Aviation Museum
If you’ve driven around Iceland at all, you’ve probably noticed the many tiny airfields that allow small planes to access more remote parts of the island. Besides Keflavík, the international airport originally built by U.S. Armed Forces, Iceland has 32 domestic airports all around the island.
Infrastructure in Iceland was historically very poor, as most places were connected merely by paths and tracks for horses and gravel roads for early cars. It wasn’t until 1960 that all populated areas finally gained basic road access. In the early 20th century Icelanders saw the potential of air travel, and the original iteration of Icelandair bought it’s first airplane in 1919. However, they had a lot of trouble getting things moving—quite literally so, as fuel was in short supply in Iceland.
A few weeks ago, I drove up north to Akureyri to talk to the guys at the Icelandic Aviation Museum. The history of aviation in Iceland is full of all kinds of adventurous people and deeds of daring-do. As we wandered around their big hanger full of (mostly airworthy) planes, Hörður Geirsson, the museum’s Chairman of the Board, told me some pretty great stories.
He pointed out a life-size version of those rubber-band gliders you played with as a kid, and told me that Nazis brought it to Iceland in the 1930’s in an attempt to curry favor with locals. I also got the inside scoop on Hörður’s nineteen-year-long search for the missing wreck of a WWII plane that crashed in a small highland glacier. Sitting in a plane once used to transport Icelandic presidents, Hörður gave me a small history lesson about the Cod Wars of the 1970’s, when the same plane was used to help small Icelandic gun boats cut British trawler wires in disputed waters.
There are few things I love more than listening to interesting people talk about their passions and projects, and my visit to the Aviation Museum did not disappoint. The weather was not particularly nice on my visit, which made it even more pleasant to wander around the warm museum imagining life in Iceland in each of the eras the different planes represent—from the Nazi glider to a prop from the hit Icelandic kid’s show, Lazy Town.
- When you visit, ask a staff member to show you around and tell you about their favorite planes. There isn’t a lot of text, so you’ll have a much better experience hearing everything first hand from the aviation experts themselves.
- If you are particularly interested in aviation, you’ll want to schedule your visit to Akureyri for the annual summer Fly Days (Flugdagur), when they take all the airworthy planes out and fly them, taking passengers out for a ride.
You can also listen to this episode of the Museums in Strange Places podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Radio Public, Libsyn, Youtube, Overcast.fm, Stitcher, Castbox. Learn more about the podcast and other episodes here.