By Joel Hall
After four years of work, research, and fund-raising, the National Museum of Commercial Aviation has found a home, at least for the time being.
On March 24, the museum, will open its doors to the public for the first time at 5442 Frontage Road, Suite 102 in Forest Park. The site will serve as a temporary location for the museum until 2011. Then, the museum plans to move into a larger main campus.
Prior to the grand opening, the museum will host a "Lift-Off Party" at the new location on Thursday, March 20, to give the public a taste of what is to come.
The space for the museum's interim office is only 3,700 square feet -- a fraction of the 30,000-50,000 square feet expected to eventually house the museum. However, the location will store an extensive number of books, artifacts, news clippings, clothes, and memorabilia cataloging America's history of commercial aviation.
"Our effort is now in its fourth year," said Grant Wainscott, executive director of the museum. "To be able to legitimize all of the hard work we've done for years and to have a facility to welcome the public, we feel that is a real privilege.
"Because these things take so long, you really need to be able to measure your progress with milestones like this," Wainscott continued. "Some museums don't get that far."
Wainscott said while the museum is a work in progress, the interim location will boast an impressive collection of very personal airlines-related items from former pilots and their families.
Among those items include letters addressed to love ones from commercial airline pilots commissioned to deliver supplies and soldiers during World War II. Other items include old pilot and flight attendant uniforms, decorative pins and belt buckles worn by pilots, and collections of toys and other free items given to passengers during the golden age of flying.
"It was so different then, and that's what makes this museum so interesting," said Lauren Costello, the museum's marketing and public relations intern. "The whole flying experience ... it was such a privilege. People got dressed up to get on a plane. They offered meals to everybody, but now they only give you a bag of pretzels and a soda, if you are lucky.
"Not only does [the museum] have the history of aviation to offer, but it also can be used as a great education tool," Costello added.
On May 15, 2007, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners awarded the museum $360,000 to help fund its operation costs for the next two years.
Commissioner Michael Edmondson said the museum will provide the county with a valuable cultural asset.
Aviation "has influenced what Clayton County is," and the museum "is actually showing a big chunk of history," said Edmondson. "The more we can showcase in terms of culture and points of interest, the better we are going to be."
The "Lift-Off Party" is an RSVP event. To find out more about the party, volunteering opportunities, or how to donate items to the museum, call (404) 675-9266, or visit www.nationalaviationmuseum.com.