MIAMI — Nestled in between the bustling Brazilian metropolitan centers of São Paulo and Ribeirão Preto lies the small city of São Carlos, home to one of the best kept secrets in aviation museums. The TAM Museum is the largest airline owned aviation museum in the world, and boasts an impressive collection of military and commercial aircraft from around the planet.
The museum is curated by João Amaro, brother of the now deceased founder of TAM Airlines. Amaro does not take his job lightly, and the incredible collection of aircraft and artifacts reflects his dedication to the museum.
The museum is actually named a little deceptively, but in the best possible way way. There is only a drop of TAM’s history present in the museum, whereas most of the exhibits are actually focused on either Brazilian aviation as a whole, or military aviation.
On the commercial side, the museum hosts just a handful of airframes. The Embraer EMB 110 (Bandeirante) has a prominent position in the center of the museum, as it was not only an integral part of TAM’s fleet, but the very first commercial aircraft Embraer had ever produced. Directly next to the EMB 110 is yet another staple of TAM’s past fleet – the Fokker 100. Phased out in 2008, the Fokker 100 was the backbone of TAM’s domestic fleet, since replaced by the Airbus A320 family.
Among the more impressive aircraft on site sits the Polish made RWD-13, the only remaining airframe. The aircraft features a unique folding wing design, and just happens to be Amaro’s favorite aircraft in the museum to fly. Just across the aisle sits a Savoia-Marchetti SM-55, an airframe so fragile that the original engine cannot yet be mounted. Other notable aircraft include a Boeing-Stearman Model 75, Douglas DC-3, and the always impressive Lockheed 049 Constellation.
The military aviation collection is also incredibly impressive. The collection contains not just one MiG varient, but three – the MiG 15, MiG 17, and MiG 21. From the Messerschmitt Bf 109 to the Supermarine Spitfire, the collection military collection at the TAM Museum rivals any major aviation museum.
As any reputable museum does, the TAM Museum opens its door to school children for visits, helping to teach Brazilian children all about the world of aviation. Amaro knows that the next generation of aviation enthusiasts, pilots, aeronautical engineers and so on need a place to have their imagination piqued, and the museum tries to meet this need every single day.
(TAM Airlines paid for the round trip airfare and lodging costs during our trip to Brazil. )