Could people from across the country one day learn, more about a largely untold story of local and national aviation pioneers simply by visiting Fort Wayne's Smith Field?
About 100 people gathered in the small north-side air field's historic main hangar Thursday to learn more about the proposal that could make it happen — if enough dollars and interest can be found, that is.
Bob Wearley, a retired Air Force Pilot and former member of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority who first laid out plans for a National Air Mail Museum last year, said Thursday's reception was designed to "introduce the community and the aviation community to the possibility of putting Fort Wayne on the map." The project would cost about $2.5 million, but before major fund-raising can begin a feasibility study must be conducted to determine whether the museum could be financially self-sustaining. Generating public interest could help pay for that $50,000 study, Wearley said.
Preliminary design work has been done by Tessellate Studio of New York, and the open house was sponsored by local businessman Tom Kelley. Smith Field dates back to the 1920s and was the city's first airport. Regular airmail service began between Washington, D.C., and New York in 1918, and local aviation pioneers Art Smith and Paul Baer flew through Smith Field as did such nationally known peers as Charles Lindbergh, World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle and Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan.
Wearley said the museum could help pay for itself by being available for wedding receptions and other rentals.
The Airport Authority voted to close Smith Field in 2002 but supporters later persuaded members to change their minds, Since then the airport has attracted significant public and private investment, including new facilities housing IVY Tech and Sweet Aviation, owned by Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack.
"This is the greatest story never told," WPTA-TV's Eric Olson, who served as master of ceremonies, told the crowd. "And there's no better place to tell that story."
Want to help?
For more information or to make a contribution go to www.nationalairmailmuseum.org