Aviation museum heading toward take off

By Daniel Silliman


The Southern Crescent's dreamed-of aviation museum is moving one step closer to reality, with the beginning of an economic feasibility study.

Grant Wainscott, executive director of The National Museum of Commercial Aviation, said the museum board is expected to start the study process this week, and approve a three-year plan, which will allow area residents early access to some exhibits.

The museum's board is moving forward with the series of studies and expects to begin a major fundraising campaign in September 2008.

As early as next year, Clayton and Henry residents could see some pieces of the proposed national museum's 7,000 donated airline artifacts, when they go on display in an interim facility, Wainscott said.

The first offering of the commercial aviation museum will include exhibits of uniforms, travel posters, buttons and pins, in-flight amenity kits, model airplanes, flight manuals and pilots' catalog cases.

The recent developments in the long-planned museum come as a result of a two-year, $360,000 grant, given by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. The museum council has promised they will build in the county.

Clayton County is a natural fit, Wainscott said, because the museum was dreamed up here, but also because of the county's relationship to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"So many of the pilots and flight attendants and the airport workers have lived in Clayton County," he said. "So many of these communities have grown up around the airport. I think the county is a natural fit."

The museum's proximity to the airport, billed the busiest airport in the world, and the proximity to three major interstates also makes the county prime real-estate for the aviation-themed museum, Wainscott said.

Preliminary sketches of a possible design were released earlier this year. Wainscott said the museum board will look at plans for a building, in the Art Deco style, with smaller items inside, and aircraft parked outside. They will also look at possibly building a hanger, housing the large and small museum pieces together, which would also be in Art Deco style.

There may be other designs they will consider, after the economic feasibility study and the fundraising study are finished, but Wainscott said the museum backers are set on the construction style.

The first study will "try to pin down how many visitors you could expect and what you might be able to charge," the executive director said. It is due to be finished by February.

"People are waiting for something big to happen and we really feel like we're going to be the folks that help deliver that ... Hopefully, we'll attract enough folks that it not only will make the museum profitable, but that we'll also communicate what commercial aviation has done for this country. We want to particularly focus on the school children."

Wainscott said he is confident the museum would be a big draw, because there's no museum like it in the rest of the country. Other aviation-related museums, either have a much broader scope -- like the Washington D.C., Smithsonian museum, which displays all things aerospace -- or much narrower, like the Delta museum.

"We've really found a niche, provided we can raise the funds to build a large enough museum," Wainscott said.

People interested in supporting the museum project can become members, for donations ranging from $25 to $1,000. Museum officials are also looking for collections of aviation memorabilia and artifacts. Anyone interested in donating, contributing or participating, can get more information from the museum's web site, www.nationalaviationmuseum.com.