Bill Demarest, a member of the U.S. Airline Industry Museum Foundation's Board of Directors, explains a merger between his organization and the Forest Park-based National Museum of Commercial Aviation during the national museum's annual gala Saturday. The museum will absorb the Florida-based USAIMF and its 10,000-piece collection as a result of the merger. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
FOREST PARK — Two aviation history groups are taking a cue from the industry whose legacy they are trying to preserve.
Just as Delta merged with Northwest, United absorbed Continental and Southwest is taking over AirTran, the Forest Park-based National Museum of Commercial Aviation is merging with the U.S. Airline Industry Museum Foundation. At least it was announced as a merger during the National Museum of Commercial Aviation’s annual gala Saturday.
In reality, it’s more like a takeover or a transfer of holdings. Bill Demarest, a member of the USAIMF Board of Directors, said his organization’s name and board will cease to exist once everything is said and done. The foundation was formed in the 1970s to establish a museum dedicated to preserving the history of commercial aviation.
That is the same mission as the National Museum of Commercial Aviation.
“We don’t have the set-up and the resources to provide a proper home for our materials and this museum is an excellent fit because we share a common goal,” said Demarest. “We’re just happy that we can help this museum grow and prosper.”
The real merger lies in the collections of the two groups. The foundation’s 10,000-piece collection will merge with the Forest Park-based museum’s collection, which includes more than 100,000 pieces. Clayton County economic development Director Grant Wainscott said volunteers and staff will now go through the process of consolidating the collections.
That will take a while, he said.
Among the new items coming into the collection through the merger are an extensive number of items, including travel posters, from National Airlines. The National Museum of Commercial Aviation previously had only a few items from National Airlines, said Wainscott, who helped found the museum.
“That was one of the thinnest parts of our collection and so we instantly acquired a National Airlines museum,” said Wainscott. “It was incredible.”
The foundation’s 1948 Convair 240, restored to appear as it did when it flew for Mohawk Airlines, will be transferred to Forest Park along with much of the rest of the group’s collection from Apopka, Fla. It will be one of four planes in the the museum’s collection, along with two FedEx cargo planes and an AirTran DC 932 whose acquisition from Middle Georgia State College was also announced at the gala.
A restored 1929 American Eagle two-seat biplane is the only item from the foundation’s collection which will remain in Florida “for now,” said Demarest.
Some of the items from the foundation’s collection were on display at the gala, including a pair of National Airlines travel posters and nearly 5-feet long model of a Boeing 727.
The museum’s collection also boasts an impressive array of items, including more than 100 flight attendant uniforms donated by the United Airlines Historical Foundation, several pieces of Eastern Airlines memorabilia, one of the last travel timetables for the ill-fated Hindenburg, a GateGourmet food truck and replicas of vintage aviation posters from a traveling Smithsonian exhibit.
“The collections are really going to integrate well because there’s really not a lot of duplication of what they have and what we have,” said Wainscott. “The things they had collected were, quite frankly, things the museum has been looking for.”
The two groups had been in talks about a merger for nearly three years, said Wainscott. Chuck Maire, the chairman of the National Museum of Commercial Aviation’s Board of Directors, and Demarest said the groups first came into contact with each other through airliner shows they were participating in.
Maire said the museum’s location in metro Atlanta was an advantage over the foundation’s location in Apopka, which is about a half-hour north of Orlando.
“It really came down to we both had the same vision, but we just had the resources here, being in Atlanta, next to the busiest airport in the world [and] right on the interstate,” said Maire.
“They had more resources, more volunteers and they have much more visibility here than we have down in Florida,” Demarest added.
Demarest also said Clayton County’s financial support of the museum, as well as support from companies such as FedEx, was an added bonus. The county’s Board of Commissioners has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance to the museum over the years and leases the land to its board of directors so a permanent facility can be built upon it.
Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, Vice-Chairman Michael Edmondson and Commissioner Sonna Singleton attended the gala to show their support of the museum.
“We have the county support [in Florida], just not the financial support,” he said.
The museum’s board is planning to eventually build a permanent facility to Smithsonian Institute standards at the site of an old park-and-ride lot. Maire said museum officials hope to begin construction on the permanent facility no later than next summer and be open to the public no later than early 2015.
Museum officials are expected to apply for “Smithsonian Affiliate” status once the permanent facility is built.
Residents can currently visit the museum at 5442 Frontage Road, Suite 110 in Forest Park on Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Adult admission is $5 while children ages 4 to 12 are admitted for $3. Annual memberships are available for $25 online at www.nationalaviationmuseum.com/.