World War II aviation museum nearly ready for takeoff

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The board of directors for the National Museum of World War II Aviation has almost everything it needs: the land, some exhibits, an educational plan and concept drawings.

Airplanes ready to go on display, and steel has been acquired to build a hangar that will serve as an education building.

All it needs now is money.

The group needs to raise between $13 million and $15 million within the next five years to open the museum. Its focusing on raising $500,000 right now, in order to move from artist renderings of the museum to actual construction drawings. Once it has those, it’ll start raising money for the rest of the museum.

The idea is to build a first-class, one of a kind educational museum in Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy, NORAD and where World War II pilots trained.

The plan, five years in the making so far, is to tell the story of World War II aviation — distinct from the collections of aircraft now housed in museums around the world. Organizers hope to tell more than the pilots’ stories — it wants to tell the story of the millions of Americans who mobilized, went to work and started building the aircraft that eventually led to owning the skies over Europe and the Pacific.

“It’s probably the last time the nation — any nation — will come together and work together for one purpose,” said Jim Stewart, a former fighter pilot and co-chairman of the board of directors. “And it’s a story too many of our kids don’t know about.”

It’s the story of the thousands of Rosie the Riveters, working outside the home for the first time; of farmers moving to cities to work on assembly lines for Ford and General Motors — no longer making cars, but making airplanes and airplane parts.

“These were churned out in minutes,” Stewart said. “They made thousands a day. And they needed them — most would only make 15 or 20 flights before they were shot down.”

The board of directors has some pretty ambitious plans. The biggest is a huge interactive map of the United States, with computer kiosks and an airplane flying overhead. Visitors can type in the name of a U.S. city and discover if an airplane part was made there. If it was the corresponding part will light up on the aircraft overhead.

“We want this to be the educational experience, not just a collection of airplanes,” said board member John Henry. “It’s going to be different than anything else in the country.”

The group has come along way. It has a long-term lease for land from the Colorado Springs airport. Some of the exhibits are already on display in the WestPac building, which also is an active part of the museum.

WestPac, in fact, will take an active role in the museum, not only housing pieces of it, but showing off its own business.

A vintage plane restoration business, WestPac has a hangar set aside for the Colorado Springs community to not only learn what it takes to get planes from the World War II era up and flying again — but they can help out.

“It’s a private company, but they are very interested in this,” Henry said. “Restoring old planes is what they do, so they want to share that, and see if they can train the next generation of restorers.”

The museum’s hangars — three of them are already in place — currently house a variety of airplanes, some of the restored, some of them still in pieces. All of it is an important part of American history.

“We’re going to take visitors through the whole set up — from the beginning of the war when we were woefully, horribly unprepared, to the point where we could fight back,” Henry said. “Air power was a key factor in winning the war, and this is going to showcase that effort.”

While the museum’s board — made up of aviation enthusiasts from around the country — has done a lot of the groundwork based on private donations, there is still a lot of work to be done.

They received a $40,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation, but still need money for the next step. To find out more about the aviation museum, visit www.worldwarIIaviation.org.

Amy Gillentine can be reached at 719-329-5205 or at amy.gillentine@csbj.com.