Arkansas Air Museum
“Promoting Aviation by Preserving the Past” is the mission statement of the Arkansas Air Museum in Fayetteville (Washington County). The museum was Arkansas’s first museum dedicated entirely to aviation history.
Located in a hangar at Fayetteville’s Drake Field, the museum occupies the oldest aviation-related structure still standing in northwest Arkansas. The hangar was constructed during World War II. Because of wartime resource limitations, Henry George, Fayetteville’s engineering assistant, developed the hangar out of wood, with construction starting on May 1, 1943. As well as designing the hangar, George worked as plumber, electrician, and welder on the project. At no time did the project employ more than four carpenters, three helpers, and George. Total cost for building the hangar was around $16,000 and funded entirely by the City of Fayetteville.
With much of northwest Arkansas’s aviation history centered around this building, it was the perfect choice when, in late 1985, Marilyn Johnson, the chairperson of Fayetteville’s state Sesquicentennial Committee, conceived the idea for an aviation museum as part of Fayetteville’s tribute to Arkansas’s Sesquicentennial. In January 1986, a group of eight aviation enthusiasts joined forces with Johnson and founded the Arkansas Air Museum. The seven consisted of aviation pioneer Ray Ellis (founder of Scheduled Skyways, one of the first commuter airlines in the United States), brothers Bob and Jim Younkin, Floyd Carl, Jim McDonald, Larry Browne, Ernest Lancaster, and Bob McKinney. This group made up the museum’s first board of directors.
After more than $120,000 spent for renovation, the museum opened its doors in August 1986. It housed eight to fourteen classic aircraft from the 1920s to the 1950s. Since they were on loan from private owners, aircraft on exhibit changed frequently. In 1989, the museum board hired the first director, Thomas “Pete” Jordan. Under his leadership, the museum hosted many exciting events, including an ultra-light aircraft show, a model plane exhibit, and a squadron of the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the Civil Air Patrol.
The museum continued to grow under the guidance of John Kalagias, who became the director in October 1991. In November of that same year, the museum acquired its very first aircraft, a Howard DGA-18K. Donated by Bob Gast, this airplane flew at Drake Field as part of the War Training Service classes in 1942–43. Acquisitions during the Kalagias years include a Cobra Gun Ship, Bell UH-1H Huey, Douglas A-4C SkyhawkII, Adventura Ultralight, Flight Service Station, and many interesting aviation artifacts. In 1996, the hangar in which the museum is housed was placed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places.
Retiring in 2002, Kalagias was replaced by Judy Hammond, who brought an air show to Fayetteville for the first time since 1990. In 2004, Derald Linn became the fourth director. Warren Jones assumed the post on January 1, 2007. Today, the museum houses aircraft ranging from replicas of World War I biplanes to a Lear Jet. An exhibit area featuring Arkansas aviators provides a showcase for artifacts from the early days of flight all the way to the space program. Beginning in the autumn of 2007, the museum will be displaying its most recent acquisition, Sam Walton’s first airplane.
Relying heavily on receipts from admissions, gift shop sales, and donations, the museum also receives funding from the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotions Commission, the City of Fayetteville, and Fayetteville’s municipal airport, Drake Field.
For additional information:
Arkansas Air Museum. https://www.arkansasairandmilitary.com/ (accessed August 31, 2023).
Arkansas Air Museum
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