The problem with having an aviation museum that isn’t at an airport is that you miss a major chunk of your target audience — pilots.
The folks at Spirit of Flight Center in Lafayette, Colo., are hoping that their museum’s new location at Erie Municipal Airport (EIK) near Denver will help attract more visitors — and that those visitors will be inclined to make donations enabling the facility to expand.
In the meantime, the museum is trying to raise $250,000 to help build the 12,000-square-foot museum building at EIK. Its collection of artifacts currently is in a business park warehouse.
“The museum got its start about five years ago,” explains Gordon Page, executive director. “We have been looking for a site for the museum at an airport for about three years.”
According to Page, one of the things that makes Erie Municipal attractive is the fact that the museum will own not only the building, when it is done, but also the land under it. In addition, the location is at the terminus of a taxiway, “so it will be easy for pilots to visit,” he said.
Another bonus: There is room at the site to double the museum’s size in the future.
Among the exhibits are parts of German World War II aircraft that were recovered overseas.
“The Spirit of Flight Center grew out of Warbird Recovery, an organization that — just as the name sounds — recovers warbirds,” says Page, who wrote the book “Warbird Recovery.”
“We got the airplanes from Russia. The book details how we dealt with the Russian Mafia and the KGB, in some cases, to get the planes,” he continued.
One thing that sets Spirit of Flight apart from many other museums is that touching the exhibits is allowed.
“Most museums have a ‘do not touch’ policy,” Page says. “At our museum you can go right up to some of the artifacts and touch them. You can stick your finger in a bullet hole. That really brings the experience home for a lot of people.”
More than 500 artifacts are on display, including the recovered warbirds. Some items were donated by veterans or their families, such as uniforms.
There are plans to rotate the exhibits in the new facility, in order to show everything.
“We plan to start in the 1920s and 1930s, the Golden Age of aviation, then, of course, we will cover World War II through the jet age and the space age,” Page says. “There is a lot to cover.”
The names of donors to the museum’s expansion effort will be placed on a 74-inch Convair 260 propeller that will be in the lobby of the Spirit of Flight Center. Donations of more than $50 will be recognized on the prop and the donor also will receive a Spirit of Flight hat. Donations of more than $500 will get a wall plaque with a piece of a military aircraft on it, along with a Spirit of Flight jacket and a hat. Donors of more than $1,000 will get all the benefits offered for lesser sums and can place a logo on the museum’s website as a sponsor.