Dr. Gary Coulter, a retired Air Force Colonel, has been named director of education for the National Museum of World War II Aviation, a massive project to create the nation’s first museum dedicated to WWII flight.
The musem project is a partnership between WestPac Restorations and several local businessmen and pilots. It’s an effort to ensure that Colorado Springs, a place rich in aviation history, is the rightful home for a display of icons from one of the nation’s most glorious eras.
The museum, which will be located adjacent to WestPac and the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, is expected to benefit the local economy because it will draw visitors from across the nation.
But it is also the organizers’ goal to educate local residents, visitors and future generations alike about the people, planes and technology that shaped history.
It’s an effort Coulter will lead, and his life’s work and experiences make him well-equipped for the job.
He is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and retired as a tenured professor from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has worked with NASA scientists at the Johnson Space Center. He founded the organization that owns and operates the Challenger Learning Center and is the former director of Academy District 20’s board of education.
He took time this week to tell the CSBJ about his work with the museum.
What lessons can children learn from WWII, and how might the National Museum of WW II Aviation benefit secondary schools in the region?
Young people will be introduced to the story of how America began WWII using second-rate aircraft, yet technological innovation powered by teams of well-trained scientists and engineers enabled us to end the war flying the highest performing aircraft in the world. They will see how scientific discovery, engineering and technological innovation is being repeated in modern America; not just in aviation but in all fields of technological development.
The Museum’s programs will motivate young visitors to pursue careers in STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
You have a long career with the U.S. Air Force, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. What prompted you to volunteer as the Educational Director of the National Museum of WWII Aviation?
There are two reasons. The first has to do with the pressing need to develop a new generation of American scientists and engineers. The second is my personal commitment and obligation to say “Thank you for your courage, dedication and selfless sacrifices” to the men and women who preserved our liberties by winning World War II. We say thanks to them by honoring them and telling future generations their noble story.
Why do you think it is important to have a facility such as the National Museum of World War II Aviation in our community?
Any American city would be proud to have this museum as a resource in the community. However, the National Museum of World War II Aviation and Colorado Springs are a perfect match. We already have a world-class WWII aircraft restoration facility here, and with the help of the community we will offer to people of all ages an educational and entertainment experience that will be world-class.
Why was Colorado Springs chosen for the museum?
Colorado Springs has a rich aviation tradition, from the USAF Academy, Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB and the aviation components at Ft. Carson in current time, back to Ent AFB (now the U.S. Olympic Training Center), and further back to the 1920s and the Alexander Aircraft Company and their Eaglerock Flyer which was popular with barnstormers.
Colorado is one of the top three contributors to our nation’s aerospace industry. Colorado Springs provides a climate that is conducive to flying, a well-educated labor force and a military-friendly philosophy.
Colorado Springs is centrally located, has a modern airport and draws tens of thousands of visitors each year to local attractions. These are all good reasons to locate the National Museum of World War II Aviation here.
When will the museum open?
We are developing the museum in stages as funds allow. The first stage was the acquisition and grading of the site at the airport, establishing the nonprofit status, the completion of the initial designs by world renowned museum designers Gallagher and Associates, and the acquisition of the three hangars that serve as the support facilities for the museum.
Next we are raising funds to complete the design phase so that we can price exhibits, galleries and areas of the museum for major sponsors. We are conducting a series of meetings with community leaders to ask for their financial support, the next one scheduled for Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Finally we will build the educational facility. If we got all the funds today, we would likely need about two years to be fully open.
For more information about the museum, visit http://www.worldwariiaviation.org/
For tour schedules of the existing museum facilities and WestPac Restorations, call (719) 637-7559.