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Museum to spotlight Hagerstown aircraft heritage

April 17, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Plans are under way to construct a $2 million aviation museum near the Washington County Regional Airport, and organizers expect the project to get off the ground once funds have been raised.

The museum board plans to build the Hagerstown Aviation Heritage Museum on two acres off U.S. 11.

Board members said Wednesday that they do not know how long it will take to raise the money. But they said they believe large donations will come in once the nonprofit museum receives IRS approval to receive tax-exempt contributions.

Architect Jack Burrey displayed plans for a 26,000-square-foot aluminum and glass building at a Wednesday meeting of the museum's board of directors.

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The two-story museum floor plan looks a bit like a stealth bomber and includes a 60-seat movie theater, a library, archives, a gift shop, a glass-enclosed, circular main lobby space, and two wings of exhibit space for vintage airplanes.

The design includes an observation tower with a view of the airport's main runway on a third level.

If the board doesn't raise as much money as expected, one of the building's two wings could be eliminated and perhaps added later, Burrey said.

The museum would be home to the Sherman M. Fairchild Education Center, which would offer aviation seminars, classes in collaboration with Hagerstown Junior College, living history presentations, guided tours and theater programs.

A special children's learning area would include model-building stations, cockpits for children to explore, videos and interactive computer software.

Museum officials hope to include many of the aircraft built in Hagerstown, such as a Kreider Reisner KR31 and KR34, a Fairchild 24, a PT-19, a Custer Channel Wing and others. Larger planes, including a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, a C-123, an F-27 and an A-10 attack jet could be displayed outside.

Richard Horigan, senior restoration technician at the National Air and Space Museum, said chances were good that the Smithsonian Institution would loan the museum some vintage planes for display.

The Airport Commission has recommended that the site adjacent to the Grove Worldwide hangar and 90 existing parking spaces be granted to the museum under a 99-year lease.

"We are not going to do anything unless we know what we're doing," said museum board President Kent Mitchell.

"We have a lot of support and people behind us...the County Commissioners are all behind it, especially since we don't intend to ask them for anything."

Mitchell said the idea for the museum grew out of the 1995 Fairchild Homecoming, which drew employees who had worked at the aircraft manufacturing plant over the years. When people saw the array of artifacts gathered for the reunion, they said "`Gee, how long has this museum been here?'" Mitchell said. "They all said why don't you have a permanent museum.

Hagerstown aviation pioneer Richard Henson, who now lives in Salisbury, Md., and Florida, flies his own turboprop plane in for the board's monthly meetings. Henson, 87, was Fairchild Aircraft's first and chief test pilot for 64 years.

"Hagerstown was awfully important in the aviation industry," said Henson, who started a flying service at the local airport in 1931, and began running a commuter operation in 1962. Henson said the museum would be a wonderful way to display that heritage.

"We're going to make it, and I think we're going to make it right," Henson said.

The Fairchild Aircraft Corp. built planes in Hagerstown from 1929 to 1983.

"After letting this whole heritage sleep for a couple of decades it's just remarkable how much has survived," said Allen Clopper, who was a Fairchild test pilot for 30 years.

"Hagerstown can use all the features it can get," said Burrey, who donated his time to design the museum. "Hagerstown has a great fine arts museum. Why shouldn't it have a great aviation museum?"

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