Museum to soar

Museum to soar

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 8:01 pm

CHATTANOOGA (AP) — The T-28 fighter plane was used for U.S. covert operations in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s.
Another T-28 saw military action in both Vietnam and Honduras. The 1956 twin-engine Piper Apache was called “aviation’s answer to the family station wagon.” These and more are among the aircraft on display at the Museum of Flight (Hixson).
The nonprofit museum, which opened at the Dallas Bay Skypark with little fanfare in May, is still in its infancy, but its curator and board members have big plans for its growth.
“We love it so much. We want to keep aviation alive,” said Judy Wilson, a board member who also coordinates the museum’s volunteers and sponsorships.
The group’s goals are to raise public awareness of historical aircraft and support T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital, she said.
The connection to T.C. Thompson started earlier this decade when Pete O’Hare, a Marine Reserve officer and former Blue Angels pilot, came to Chattanooga for an air show and decided to settle here. Through donors and fundraisers, the museum already has given the hospital $5,000, but an expansive Wings and Wheels event is planned for next spring or fall to entice members of airplane clubs to fly in and car clubs to drive in.
“We want to have more events (and) earn more money” for the hospital, Wilson said.
But other steps must take place first. Soon, volunteers will undertake one of the biggest operations to date — the 800-horsepower engine from one of its T-28s must be removed and prepared for shipment to California for repair.
The museum has committed to having its two 1950s-era, silver-gray T-28s in three Marine air shows next year. The engine overhaul is a $25,000 to $30,000 necessity, said Stewart Pruitt, a Chattanooga resident, museum volunteer and mechanical maintenance coordinator with Delta Air Lines in Atlanta.
“Our (desire) is not to have static displays, but to keep things moving, to keep things living,” he said.
Another event, officials said, will feature 30-minute rides in the museum’s Piper Apache, which seats four in addition to the pilot. There are no immediate plans for rides in the T-28s, they said, but the fighters remain the museum’s most interesting aircraft.
They’re “an important part of history,” said Coleen Pruitt, Stewart’s wife and the museum’s curator. “They’re an amazing piece of machinery.”
O’Hare, who owns the bright blue hangar where the airplanes are housed, bought both of the propeller fighter planes and has loaned them to the museum.
Both planes started their lives as military trainers but eventually became ground attack aircraft.
The 1,400-horsepower T-28 Bravo was employed in Operation Farmgate, a counterinsurgency operation in Vietnam in the early 1960s. Although it has been stripped and repainted and will be outfitted as a Marine fighter, it still has patched bullet holes evident from its covert Air Force life.
The other T-28 served near Da Nang, Vietnam, for three or four years, Coleen Pruitt said.
It was later sold for $1 to Honduras, where it saw action in the Soccer War, or 100-Hours War, with El Salvador in 1969, she said.

Published in The Messenger 9.22.10

Leave a Comment