Proposed museum would celebrate WWII air power

March 12, 2010
photo - In a photograph hanging on the wall of WestPac Restorations, women constructed warplanes during WWII. The efforts on the home front would become a major component of the story told by the proposed 40,000-square-foot National Museum of World War II Aviation. Photo by Courtesy WestPac Restorations
In a photograph hanging on the wall of WestPac Restorations, women constructed warplanes during WWII. The efforts on the home front would become a major component of the story told by the proposed 40,000-square-foot National Museum of World War II Aviation. Photo by Courtesy WestPac Restorations 

A new museum at Colorado Springs Airport would showcase how American air power won World War II, and a group of retired Air Force officers, aviation enthusiasts and civic leaders is trying to raise more than $14 million to build it.

The National Museum of World War II Aviation would be the only one of its kind in the United States, said John Henry, a museum board member and spokesman: “There are others that are about a part of that story, such as the Naval Air Museum and the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum, but none dedicated to this subject.”

The museum is the brainchild of Jim Fry, a Minneapolis businessman and aviation buff who, in 2005, selected Colorado Springs as the site  because of the area’s extensive military presence and history, including the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The effort also involves WestPac Restorations, an aircraft-restoration company specializing in World War II planes. WestPac has restored several of the aircraft to be displayed in the museum. In 2008, Fry convinced WestPac to move its operations to Colorado Springs from Rialto, Calif., after the airport in that city closed.

“This museum is essentially the pre-history of the Air Force Academy,” said Harold Skramstad, a Boulder museum-planning consultant working on the project. “If air power wasn’t a key element of the Allied victory in World War II, there wouldn’t be an Air Force, and thus, there would be no Air Force Academy. World War II put aviation theory into practice.”

The museum’s nine-member board has come up with $2.5 million for planning, site preparation and infrastructure development to advance the project to the groundbreaking stage, which could happen later this year. When the project is completed depends on how quickly organizers can raise the remaining $14.5 million, including $3 million for the building and $9 million for exhibits.

On Monday, the museum announced it had hired Kathryn Janak as project manager. She had been the museum’s architectural adviser for three years and was closely involved in the project’s design, said the museum board in a news release.

The board plans to buy three hangars that Fry spent $2.5 million building in 2006 at the airport to house aircraft that were used in World War II. The facility will mostly focus on education about the buildup and use of aviation during the war, Henry said. WestPac will be a key element of the museum — the ticket price will include a tour of the company’s hangar, where visitors can watch aircraft being restored.

“We moved here to be part of the museum,” said Bill Klaers, WestPac’s president and co-chairman of the museum’s board. “When the city of Rialto closed its airport, we had several options. We came to Colorado Springs to be part of this. It took 90 semitrailers and 10 months to move everything here.”

The 20-acre museum complex will include a hangar where volunteers can help in restoring World War II aircraft; another hangar where up to seven restored aircraft will be displayed; and a third that will be used for storage. The museum’s board has hired Maryland-based Gallagher & Associates — which has worked with the Smithsonian, the Olympic Training Center and the National D-Day Museum — to design its exhibits.

The exhibits will be divided into five parts:

• Prelude: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other events leading to American involvement in the war.

• Mobilizing American air power: The massive effort to design and build aircraft for the war.

• Weathering the storm: Early victories by Japan and Germany from 1941 to 1943.

• Striking back: Victories for American air power from 1942 to 1944.

• Controlling the skies: The destruction of Japanese naval power and raids on German cities from 1944 to 1945.

A sixth area called “Legacy” will describe the growth of air transportation and shipment that resulted from aviation advancements during the war.

“In 1941, the emphasis was on building battleships to fight the war, then they realized (military aviation advocate Maj. Gen.) Billy Mitchell may be right and they needed air power and carriers,” Klaers said. “That kicked in this whole mobilization to design and build aircraft. Nash-Kelvinator made washers and driers before the war, and six months later, they were building propellers.”

During the early years of the war, air battles showed that American pilots were flying substandard aircraft that couldn’t keep up with the faster and more advanced German and Japanese fighters, Klaers said. Within a couple of years, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt helped American pilots take control of the skies and turn the tide of the war.

By the end of the war, the American aviation industry had produced aircraft that intercepted Japanese kamikaze pilots and eventually carried the atomic bombs that forced Japan to surrender. After the war, the technology helped build the airline and air-freight industries by enabling aircraft to travel longer distances faster and carry more weight, Henry said.

“Many of the early passenger planes had their roots in aircraft that were used in World War II, and that legacy continues today,” Henry said. “Before World War II, the airline industry was small and just starting to appeal to a mass market.”

Education will be a key element of the museum, which Klaers said will be matched to state education standards for history, math and science. The museum will include a classroom where teachers can reinforce the lessons included in the exhibits and “inspire kids to go into aviation,” Klaers said.

The 40,000-square-foot facility will also include space for special exhibits as well as an observation deck where visitors can watch World War II aircraft take off and land on the airport’s adjacent west runway.

A centerpiece of the museum will be the “home-front experience,” which will include an aircraft made up of parts from every section of the country, with a U.S. map on the floor and multiple kiosks so visitors can type in a location and find out how it was related to aviation. Visitors will also be able to walk through the fuselage of a B-17 Flying Fortress,” Klaers said.

“The story that hasn’t been told is how deep every part of the country was involved in building up American air power during World War II,” Henry said. “This exhibit will make that point in a big way.”

Contact the writer at 636-0234.

The National Museum of World War II Aviation: www.worldwariiaviation.



Bill Klaers,
President of WestPac Restorations, a Colorado Springs-based aircraft-restoration company specializing in World War II planes.

Jim Stewart,
Retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot with a background in aeronautical engineering, flight testing and operations research. Owned a government contracting company that provided technical services to the Air Force, Army and Navy.

Vic Andrews
Served 30 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel in 1996 after serving as a combat pilot, squadron commander, wing commander and vice superintendent at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Also served as vice president and general manager of the United Services Automobile Association’s regional office located in Colorado Springs.

John Dibbs
An air-to-air photographer, author and historical consultant specializing in World War II aviation. Runs Seattle-based The Plane Picture Co.

Mark Earle
Serves as aviation director at Colorado Springs Airport.

Gen. Ronald Fogleman
Served as Air Force chief of staff and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

John Henry
Retired in 2007 as executive director of corporate communications for USAA’s 11-state Mountain States region.

Charles “Chic” Myers
CEO of Integrity Air, a business-aviation management, leasing and brokerage company serving corporations in the Rocky Mountain region. In 2008, he created Executive Aviation Services to provide executive-level hangar services owners of business jets along the Front Range.

Kurt Peterson
Managing principal of KPM Consulting and president and co-owner of Black Rapid, a photography industry company. Served as director of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s vintage aircraft collection.

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