The National Museum of World War II Aviation will break ground next month on a hangar that will increase its display space by about 50 percent when it opens early next year.
T-Bone Construction Inc., general contractor for the $6 million project, has begun grading, using excess soil donated from construction of a nearby terminal for FedEx Freight, said Bill Klaers, the museum’s president and CEO. A groundbreaking for the 40,000-square-foot Kaija Raven Shook Aeronautical Pavilion, named for a major donor, is expected in August once the nonprofit gets city approval for its revised development plans, allowing completion of the hangar by February, he said.
“We are operating at capacity right now, and this will allow us to get all of our collection under one roof as well as give us some event and additional exhibit space,” Klaers said. “We will finally be able to do what we have said we would do when we opened the museum, which is to provide an economic catalyst for the community and further our educational mission.”
The museum’s aircraft had been in a hangar built by Western Pacific Airlines, but it was sold recently to Cutter Aviation, Klaers said. That required the museum to temporarily move its aircraft to other hangars at airports in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Arizona and Texas, he said.
The museum at 755 Aviation Way, in the northwest corner of the Colorado Springs Airport, opened in 2013 and also expects to create another 40,000 square feet of hangar space over the next three years, Klaers said. An 86,000-square-foot Aviation Hall that was to be the centerpiece of the museum complex is on hold until the museum’s board can raise the $31 million needed to build it, he said.
The new hangar was financed with grants from the Slattery Family Foundation, headed by Jim Slattery, a vintage aviation buff who donated 16 vintage aircraft to the museum, and by El Pomar Foundation, the Gates Foundation and the Anschutz Foundation. He said the latter three grants came after the facility was designated a national museum as part of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in December.
The expanded museum also will house a school for aircraft mechanics expected to open next spring to train 100 students in a 1½-year program that will certify them to work on engines and air frames and eventually will expand to 200 students, Klaers said. The school is expected to supply mechanics to WestPac Restorations Inc., which has restored many of the museum’s aircraft and is owned by Klaers; Sierra Nevada Corp.’s military and civilian operations in the Springs; and several other local aviation businesses, he said.
“Training mechanics has always been a goal of the museum. Our educational programs are designed to get children interested in aviation so they eventually might consider a career” in the industry, Klaers said.