A rapid-fire construction project will allow the National Museum of World War II Aviation to have more planes on display by spring.
The museum, on the west side of the Colorado Springs Airport, broke ground on the new exhibit hall Wednesday, with five World War II veterans manning the shovels. The long-planned expansion will include a pair of flying boats from the war and two one-of-a-kind fighters.
“By next spring, you’ll be able to see some of the rarest examples of World War II aircraft on the globe,” museum boss Bill Klaers said.
The long-planned Kaija Raven Shook Aeronautical Pavilion will add 40,000 square feet to the museum. That means more treasures, including WWII planes meticulously rebuilt by Klaers’ adjacent Westpac Restorations facility.
The pavilion is designed to grow, with a second phase planned to double its size.
The museum, opened in 2012, has a mix of Air Force and Navy planes that battled in Europe and in the Pacific. It was designated by Congress last year as the nation’s premiere facility for World War II aircraft.
“This is a national jewel,” said Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who pushed the bill that gave the museum the “national” designation.
Getting enough money to expand the place, though, has taken years. “It has been a long road,” Klaers said.
A driving factor for the expansion is that the museum has more planes than space. That’s thanks largely to billionaire aviation buff Jim Slattery, who has offered to put 15 planes from his encyclopedic collection of World War II aircraft on display there.
Among the planes are a Grumman F3F, a biplane fighter that was still in service when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and a Consolidated PBY Catalina, the iconic twin-engine flying boat that was used to spot the Japanese fleet at Midway.
Another plane destined for the new museum space is White-33, a twin-engine P-38 Lightning fighter that was flown in World War II by a Colorado Springs pilot, the late Frank Royal.
Slattery, along with the El Pomar and Anschutz foundations, helped bankroll the expansion. Slattery has offered another $5 million for further expansion if the museum can raise the cash to match it.
For the first phase of the expansion, the museum is wasting no time. With the push for an April opening, there are few minutes to spare.
To host the groundbreaking, Klaers had to halt bulldozers that already are at work.
“When we’re done here, get back to work, fast,” he told the crews.