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Aviation museum takes flight in city

July 15, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Old stories about in-air near misses and older stories about the birth of flight in Hagerstown were on people's lips Thursday as the first guests to the Hagerstown Aviation Museum crossed through its doors.

"This is long overdue," said David Verdier, 63, an admitted enthusiast of Fairchild Industries, one of the largest employers in the history of Washington County.

"Ever since I've been a kid, I was always interested in Fairchild. ... There was always a Fairchild plane going over my head," said Verdier, who lives in Maugansville. Looking at the model airplanes, the photos and the exhibits, he said, "I couldn't be happier."

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After an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, the museum opened to the public.

The museum is housed in an upstairs room at Discovery Station, the recently opened educational museum at 101 W. Washington St. It will be a permanent display, said B. Marie Byers, Discovery Station president.

The exhibits shed some light on the man who is credited with bringing aviation to Hagerstown and Washington County, Giuseppi Bellanca. The Italian immigrant began building his design of airplanes in 1916.

One of the men who worked for Bellanca, Lew Reisner, went on to form his own company, which eventually became Kreider-Reisner Aircraft. The company was bought by Sherman Fairchild in 1929. Fairchild's company became a huge area employer and kept its presence in the county until the 1980s.

The museum has plaques explaining some of the more prominent names in local aviation history. There also are model airplanes, an early version of a drone airplane made in the 1970s, corporate documents, posters and aviation memorabilia on display.

Kurtis Meyers, president of the aviation museum, said there are plans for expansion. He said he hopes that in the coming months, a single-engine Cessna 150 will be installed in the museum space, and one of the original Fairchild plant buildings - little more than a large tool shed - along Pennsylvania Avenue can be saved for some kind of museum use.

J. Allen Clopper, 89, was a flight engineer with Fairchild for 30 years. At the museum's opening, he said he remembered a scary moment in Hagerstown's flight history involving Richard "Dick" Henson, the late pilot, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Henson was at the controls of the maiden flight of the C-82 Packet, an early cargo airplane.

"We all had a feeling of ownership so to speak, and we wanted to see it," Clopper said. But not long after it took off, one of the two engines flamed out. Luckily, Henson timed the extinguishers right, and landed safely.

Clopper said even as far back as the 1970s, Fairchild's history was disappearing.

"I think it's a significant part of Hagerstown's history. I guess it's almost fair to say the Flying Boxcar," one of Fairchild's most prolific planes, "put Hagerstown on the map," Clopper said.

The aviation museum will keep the same hours as Discovery Station, which are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Byers said that in September, Discovery Station will open on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

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