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Colorado Springs plane museum on cusp of congressional honor

October 4, 2017 Updated: October 4, 2017 at 10:24 am
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Westpac Restorations Bill Klaers walks past a 1952 Douglas A-1E Skyraider in one of the hangers at the National Museum of World War II Aviation at the Colorado Springs Airport Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017.

The National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs would officially earn its title under a provision inserted into a defense policy bill that has passed the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., added the designation for the museum into the National Defense Authorization Act, which is undergoing final revisions in a conference committee between the House and Senate.

"So many don't know that museum is in Colorado Springs," Bennet said Tuesday from Washington, D.C. "I hope this will help their efforts." Although the measure won't bring federal cash to the museum off Aviation Way at the Colorado Springs Airport, it does bring prestige. Museum chairman Bill Klaers said the designation would help fundraising and could boost a plan to build a second location downtown.

"We've been working on that for eight years," Klaers said. Getting designated a national museum would put the Colorado Springs facility on par with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, he said. It affirms that the museum is the best place in the nation to learn about the planes that won World War II.

"We're trying to bring the National Museum of World War II aviation here to Colorado Springs," Klaers said.

The museum has a solid start in the task. Klaers runs the neighboring Westpac Restorations, which turns aircraft junk recovered around the world into flying classic planes. The museum features rare machines such as the biplane Grumman F2F, which Navy pilots flew at the outset of the war. It also contains some of the war's most advanced designs, such as the Grumman F7F Tigercat, a twin-engine carrier fighter that could hit speeds topping 460 mph. The designation has a clear path to become law, since an earlier House version of the defense policy measure passed.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, championed the provision in the House and said it will put the museum on the map.

"It shows what a special facility it really is," Lamborn said from Washington, D.C. "This is a national recognition by the Congress of the United States that this museum has national significance."

The congressional move is one piece of the museum's legislative agenda. The museum's board also is seeking approval from the Colorado General Assembly to redirect City for Champions money into building a museum off Cimarron Street downtown. The City For Champions proposal is a series of four projects, including the U.S. Olympic Museum downtown, designed to attract thousands of visitors to Colorado Springs.

In December 2013, the Colorado Economic Development Commission agreed to help fund the projects under the state's Regional Tourism Act. A proposed downtown stadium never gained traction. Klaers came close last year to gaining legislative approval to redirect stadium cash to the second museum location, a $30 million project. Museum officials are preparing to go back to lawmakers. But first, Klaers said, he wants city leaders to speak up.

"We have a really good plan together. We want to move this forward," he said. "We just want to make sure the city is on board."

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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