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Aviation Museum hosts first tour group

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The National Museum of Commercial Aviation in Forest Park hosted its first educational tour group on Friday morning.

While the museum's temporary office on Frontage Road has been open for less than a month, the museum has generated interest throughout the metro Atlanta region.

A dozen students from Solid Foundation, Inc., a home-school program in Stone Mountain, were the first students to test the museum. Val Archer, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen and a volunteer with Solid Foundation, Inc., joined the tour and assisted in educating students on many aspects of commercial aviation.

"I thought this would be a great opportunity for kids to get an introduction to the commercial side," said Archer. He said, as a part of the school's curriculum, the students are learning about military aircraft and the basics of flight. "It's a good history of how rapidly aviation has advanced."

Students learned about the history of the world's busiest airport -- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport -- and participated in several hands-on activities. Those included putting together paper models of the ASA CRJ-200 (Atlantic Southeast Airlines Commuter Regional Jet); browsing through the uniforms of now-defunct airlines, and learning the basics of flying on a computerized flight simulator.

"It's very hands on," said Camille Allen, director of Solid Foundation, Inc. "One of our goals is to expose them to different things, and this is a great opportunity."

Allen said the school had recently visited Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta to tour military aircraft. She believes, however, the National Museum of Commercial Aviation is more applicable to the majority of the students, who may never enter the Air Force.

"This is different, because this is something that they will probably experience themselves," said Allen. "They can actually bring to life what they have seen here.

"With all of the information they have here, there is no way you can get everything by coming just one time," Allen added. "We definitely plan on bringing them back."

Archer said the museum will be particularly useful in introducing more African-American students to careers in aviation, an industry which he believes will become increasingly important in the near future.

"Very few blacks are involved in aviation," said Archer. He said between 1942 and 1946, the Tuskegee Army Air Field produced 992 pilots -- more than the combined number of black pilots today who fly commercially or for the military.

"We really need to create opportunities for African Americans in aviation, but we also need to create preparation activities, so they are prepared for the opportunities," Archer said.

National Museum of Commercial Aviation Executive Director Grant Wainscott was pleased with the interest the museum's temporary location is generating, despite its space limitations.

"We're really excited to be open, and even in the smaller version of what we are, we've had a lot of visitors," said Wainscott. "We're not set up to bring in groups of 50 to 100 ... our maximum group size right now is about 10 or 12." However, "this gives us a chance to see what kids like to hear."

Groups interested in tours should contact (404) 675-9266, for more information.