With the approach of the centennial celebration of the city of Birmingham in the mid 1960s, a civic committee began working on projects that would tell the story of the first 100 years of the City of Birmingham. Mrs. Mary Alice Beatty, who, with her husband, Donald Beatty had been pioneers in the establishment of the first airline routes and bases in Central and South America, felt that the Aviation History of Birmingham should be included in these projects.
The Committee's goal was to establish a regional air museum, to be called The Southeastern Museum of Aviation, and Mrs. Beatty was placed in charge of the project with $400 appropriated for expenses. Using the Beatty's own collection of memorabilia as a basis, in 1966 she established the first displays in six display cases. Samford University offered space for the displays, which, by that time, was called The Birmingham Museum of Aviation. The displays remained at Samford for three years, during which time Mrs. Beatty was the curator. Mrs. Beatty then moved the displays to a location closer to the airport, using the main lobby of the Birmingham Airport Motel, which stood at the location of the present short-term parking deck across the street from the old terminal.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in 1978 at the museum's current location, and the Southern Museum of Flight was officially opened to the public in the fall of 1983. After nearly three decades of growth and expansion, the Southern Museum of Flight is dedicated to investigating, preserving, and promoting the rich stories of Southern Aviation and to providing enjoyable, experiential educational programming for people of all ages. Through collaborative partnerships within the community, the Southern Museum of Flight provides a continuum of exhibitions, displays, and educational services with a sincere devotion to cultural and historical literacy. The Southern Museum of Flight prepares and supports skillful, reflective professionals who improve the quality of aviation education in a museum setting.
The Southern Museum of flight presents civilian, military, and experimental aircraft and memorabilia from the earliest history of powered flight. The museum houses over 90 aircraft, as well as engines, models, artifacts, and paintings. In addition, the Southern Museum of Flight is home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame with over 70 biographical plaques presenting Alabama aviation history through collective biography.