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Support organizing to complete flight test museum

By April 6, 2023May 25th, 2023No Comments

By: Larry Grooms

On March 22, 2023, an occupationally diverse group of Aerospace Valley citizens became the first cohort in a series of National Museum League Training Camps preparing an ancillary fundraising team to finish construction of the Flight Test Historical Foundation Museum.

Just after a cold and windy daybreak, a dozen invitees representing economic development, media, marketing, civilian/military and veteran groups and some elected officials boarded a van for an eight-hour tour, with scheduled stops at historic locations and inside an ancient hangar concealing aircraft historically unique to Edwards AFB.

First stop on the tour was the existing on-base museum structure, too small to accommodate most of the aircraft in the inventory, and largely inaccessible to the public because of a series of unfortunate events. With security shutdowns after 9-11, extended by anti-terrorism efforts, and the arrival of the pandemic and most recently, national recession, supply-chain disruptions leading to shortages of construction materials and doubling the costs for almost every phase of the construction program.

Because the Aerospace Valley museum’s program involves transporting military based historic inventory to a public-accessible off-base site, the Flight Test Historical Foundation’s publications all include this notice to avoid any misunderstanding: “The mission of the Flight Test Historical Foundation (FTHF) is to raise funds to support the development of the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB. A private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the FTHF’s fund-raising efforts focus on museum improvements, exhibits and aircraft acquisition/restoration. We are actively engaged in STEM education and construction of a new, more accessible, museum facility.”

Rex Moen, longtime museum foundation board and executive board member, served as a career legislative staffer for the late California State Sen. Col. William J. “Pete” Knight. Knight made aerospace history and won astronaut wings for flying the X-15 rocket research to hypersonic speed and reaching space.

As a member of the Flight Test Museum Foundation’s Board of Directors for more than 23 years, Moen is first the foundation’s fundraising chair.

Joining Moen on the training team tour were: Flight Test Museum Director George Welsh, tour guide and driver; Jimmy Doolittle III, past FTHF chair and retired vice-commander at Edwards; David Smith, Air Force Plant 42 Director, FTHF Board member and chair of the NML Speakers Bureau.

Danny Bizzell, The Commander’s Community Adviser, welcomed the tour and delivered a briefing on history and mission of Edwards, which he called “The Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe.”

Joining him at the doorway were other key museum leaders, including Art Thompson, chairman of the Flight Test Historical Foundation Board of Directors, the non-profit lead planner and fund-raiser for its annual “Gathering Of Eagles,” and ongoing membership drive and donor recruitment program. The program includes financial partnership with the Society of Experimental Test Pilots in building the Education Center to house SETP’s priceless archives in the Bob Hoover Library and Conference Center. Next major steps will include roofing installation and cloaking exterior and interior framework, notably the Education Center.

Thompson presented the case for the new museum’s successful outcomes by pointing out the universally unique conditions that make it not just another local attraction, but a one-of-a-kind worldwide tourist “mecca,” a new family-affordable vacation location. Like taking the kids to the aerospace version of Disneyland where the rockets and airplanes are real and tour guides share “The Right Stuff,” having actually “been up there and done that cool and inspiring stuff.”

And Thompson repeated the punch-line showstopper on his video: “People talk about going to Kitty Hawk to see where the first American airplane flew. After that, the first flights of everything else came here.”

Members of the first Training Camp group were: Thompson; Kathy Mclaren, president of AV/Edge; Matt Winheim, president of Edwards AFB Civilian/Military Support Group; Paul Vitale, president of the Pete Knight Chapter of Air & Space Forces Association; Laura Wyatt, district director for Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner; Dennis Anderson, adviser for newspaper campaign articles; Larry Grooms, aviation news writer, Aerotech News and Review; Claudia Elliot, Tehachapi News reporter; Claudia Baker, owner, Tehachapi Loop Newspaper; Mark Laciura, reporter, Tehachapi Loop; Stuart Naucht, Richmond Properties ; Maria “Ali” Villalobos, representing Lockheed Martin.

Future Training Sessions

Moen explained that about 11 more Flight Test Museum Foundation Life Friends Campaign Training Camps are scheduled for up to 13 participants from the Tri-County Los Angeles, Kern and San Bernardino regions. The camps, all to be held at Edwards AFB on a weekday from March through June, are expected to raise funds to permit timely resumption of the remaining construction work.

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