Air Force Museum breaks ground on fourth giant hangar – 2016 target for opening
It seems that the National Museum of the United States Air Force (forever better known as the “Air Force Museum”) in Dayton, Ohio has always been bursting at the seams, even as it added new gianormous hangars since opening the first one on its present 400-acre site in 1971. Since then it has added two more hangars, a giant screen theatre, and a dedicated missile gallery structure. I especially recall the most recent opening of the Cold War Gallery, which in 2003 enabled some long-awaited aircraft additions and shuffling that helped make better sense of the collection’s chronological flow (numerous significant aircraft had been stored at the museum annex on Wright-Patterson AFB, rendering them accessible to visitors on a very limited basis, especially after 9-11).
Still, there are many stories left untold and many more historic aircraft left un-displayed, with more always in the pipeline, such as the original “Memphis Belle” B-17F well into its ground-up restoration and (as reported here) the V-22 Osprey that arrived last winter. Some have been stowed in the annex gallery seemingly forever, such as the Presidential Aircraft collection including SAM 2600 (Air Force One) that served eight presidents, and the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie bomber. Others have been parked outdoors, the C-141 “Hanoi Taxi” and C-130E among them.
So aviation heritage fans worldwide should count it a big deal that earlier this week museum and Air Force officials held a groundbreaking ceremony to herald the construction of the fourth giant facility, a 224,000 square foot, LEED-certified hangar that will house new galleries highlighting USAF contributions to R&D, Space, Presidential airlift support, and Global Reach in support of Armed Forces throughout the world.
The Air Force Museum Foundation is the non-profit organization founded in 1960 to assist the Air Force Museum largely by raising funds in support of programs and capital projects like the expansion, which is totally privately funded. In a very tough economic environment, the Foundation has raised $39.2 million toward the target of $46 million, allowing contracts to move forward and now construction to get underway.
Foundation board chair, Fran Duntz, said “We’re extremely pleased to assist the Air Force with financing for the fourth building, and we’re fully committed to achieving our campaign goal so that the entire potential of the fourth building can realized.” Incidentally, the museum’s giant screen theatre, café and dangerously alluring gift & book shop are operated by the Foundation, generating proceeds also applied to support. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James also spoke at the brief ceremony, calling the museum the Air Force’s “window to the public” and thanking the Foundation for their support and assistance.
In his comments to the assembled donors, media, military, and public officials at the outdoor ceremony and reception, Lt. Gen. (Ret) Jack Hudson, the museum’s director, said that a public opening is anticipated in 2016. He also emphasized that the unique spacecraft and unparalleled technology that will be on display in the fourth hangar will provide the perfect setting for museum STEM and other education initiatives already underway, “a catalyst for the achievements of the future.”