Aviation museum continues to expand

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Maria Jose Subiria


Inside the Young Aviators Hangar at the National Museum of Commercial Aviation in Forest Park, Cathy Ratti and her son, 22-year-old Michael Ratti, worked together to pilot a simulator over computer-generated suburbs.

Using a Delta 727 Cockpit Familiarization Trainer, Michael Ratti handled the yoke control while his mother managed the engine panel.

Cathy Ratti, director of the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services, said it was the first time she had visited the museum, located at 5442 Frontage Road, Suite 110, but it won't be her last.

"It is very impressive, and I really like the hands-on aspect of it, especially for the kids," she said. "The sad thing is, I don't think people know it is here."

The museum recently hosted a business-networking function in conjunction with the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. The event served to introduce about two dozen of the county's business and community leaders to the museum and its new, albeit temporary, home.

According to Chuck Maire, chairman of the board of trustees for the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, the museum's collection has continued to grow since it opened, which hastened the need for a move in September to a larger space on Frontage Road in Forest Park.

"We opened about a year and a half ago, and immediately outgrew," he said.

According to Collections Manager Stephanie Hensley, the museum is putting together several new exhibits, including one called "30,000-ft. Ceilings: Diversity in the Industry." Though the exhibit isn't yet complete, books about women and African Americans in aviation are already on display.

Hensley said one of the topics the exhibit will address will be discrimination against women pursuing careers in piloting. She said the other items that will be included in the exhibit are still under discussion.

She said the aviation museum is also working with the Georgia Archives to install an exhibit at the archives, located at 5800 Jonesboro Road, in Morrow. The exhibit will include items highlighting in-flight service and marketing.

Timothy Frilingos, museum services manager for the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Capitol Museum, said the exhibit will likely go on display in the middle of January, and stay up until April.

The exhibit will feature items like airline plate settings from the past to the present, he added, as well as pilot and flight crew uniforms from the 1960s and 1970s.

"I think, for people in Clayton County, it is an excuse to visit the Georgia Archives," said Frilingos. "It also gives people a chance to learn about an up-and-coming museum, the National Museum of Commercial Aviation."

Frilingos said the museum is an important asset to the community because it preserves the history of those commercial airlines that were, and are, important to the area.

One of the aviation museum's most recent acquisitions is a former Eastern Airlines Martin 404 cockpit, donated to the museum by Prop-Liners of America in August, said Grant Wainscott, director of the museum.

According to the museum's web site, the Martin 404 was delivered to Eastern Airlines in 1952 and later served as singer Ray Charles' personal plane during the 1960s. The Martin 404 then became a freight plane for Frontier Airways in Wyoming. It had been in storage in Sheridan, Wyo., since 1978, until being donated to the museum.

Wainscott said the aviation museum would have taken the entire plane, but due to the cost and the required amount of restoration, it chose to take only the cockpit.

Wainscott said the museum will spend the next couple of months cleaning the interior of the cockpit, installing lights and repainting it to its original Eastern Airlines livery. Once the cockpit is completely restored, visitors will be able to venture inside.

"We are still cleaning it at this point," Wainscott said. "It is a 50-year-old aircraft ... it will need some cleaning."

According to Maire, the chairman of the museum's board of directors, museum officials hope to break ground on a new, 50,000- to 100,000-square-foot permanent museum facility in about 18 months, but aren't ready yet to announce a location.

"It is going to be beneficial," said Crystal Black, director of member services for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. "It gives a great opportunity for people to see what Clayton County has to offer."

Inside a room across from the Young Aviators Hangar, George "Dazy" Perry, a museum member and an aviation history enthusiast, looked through an array of aviation photos taken across several decades.

Perry said almost every room inside the National Museum of Commercial Aviation contains something that reminds him of his 38-and-a-half years as a Delta Air Lines pilot.

"It's very nice and they've [museum staff] done an extremely good job with it," said Perry, of Hiawassee, Ga.

Perry pointed to a model of a Delta Boeing 777 painted in a special livery for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He said he flew the plane for Delta before retiring, and donated the model of it to the museum.

"That was the last airplane I flew for Delta," he said. "I flew it from the summer of 1999, until I retired in the summer of 2003."


On the net:

National Museum of Commercial Aviation: www.nationalaviationmuseum.com