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Rare historical plane given to local museum

August 24, 2007

Ward Wilkins flew a silver-and-black Fairchild PT-19 to Hagerstown last Saturday. His journey started in Indiana the day before, but the journey for the airplane started 64 years ago in Hagerstown.

The 1943 airplane returned to the place where it was built, and Wilkins donated it to the Hagerstown Aviation Museum. The airplane is one of an ever-decreasing number of flying PT-19s still in existence.

The PT-19 was manufactured in Hagerstown by the Fairchild Co. starting in 1939. It continued in production through 1943.

The surprise donation came about because of the international news surrounding the return to Hagerstown of the last-flying C-82 to its home with the local aviation museum.

"When I received the phone call offering the aircraft, I was thrilled," said museum President Kurtis Meyers. "This was an incredible donation of a plane which made Hagerstown famous."

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Meyers, and several museum volunteers and aviation enthusiasts, were at the airport to see Wilkins and his PT-19 arrive.

"This was an emotional experience for me. The PT-19 has been so important in our family's life, and I'm glad to finally find a place where this much loved airplane belongs, a place where I know it will be taken care of and loved."

The PT-19 is an open-cockpit primary training plane that flies at a top speed of about 100 miles per hour, and has a range of about 240 miles. The aircraft, nicknamed "The Cornell," is a two place, tandem seating, cantilever low-wing monoplane with fabric-covered welded steel tube fuselage, fixed landing gear, and plywood-covered wood center section, outer wing panels and tail assembly.

More than 4,500 PT-19's of this model were manufactured in Hagerstown and tens of thousands of pilots trained on this aircraft, preparing for World War II service.

The Wilkins family has owned at least one PT-19 since World War II. Ward's father, Clint, was trained in a PT-19 during the war. He went on to fly B-24 bombers in the 5th Air Force, but when the war was over, his love for the airplane that had taught him to fly motivated him to acquire one when they were made available for civilian purchase and use.

The Wilkins family built a hanger and landing strip on their five-generation family farm in Indiana. His father's love of airplanes inspired Ward, who went on to a career in historic aircraft restoration and flying.

The museum acquired the last flying Fairchild C-82 Packet, nicknamed the Flying Boxcar, at an auction in Wyoming last August. Later, a C-119 was donated, along with an AT-6, and a blue and yellow Fairchild PT-19.

To manufacture the PT-19 aircraft, more than 10,000 people throughout Hagerstown worked on the production of the airplane. During the war years, furniture and machine and other local companies were employed to make parts and pieces.

The museum now has more than 10 historic and rare aircraft, and is currently raising funds for a permanent location for its planes, and interactive and interpretive displays.

To learn more about the museum, and its current location at Discovery Station, see www.hagerstownaviationmuseum.org

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