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EAA Chapter 2 Part of National Airmail Museum Project
August 24, 2017 - A group based at Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is working to preserve the history of their airport’s role in airmail history by establishing the first National Airmail Museum at a site that saw iconic aviators such as Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Howard Hughes fly in at one point or another.
EAA Chapter 2 Treasurer Geoff Robison, EAA 268346, was one of the first to get involved with the endeavor, after Bob Wearley realized no museums in the United States are currently dedicated to airmail.
“There’s a lot of history here in Fort Wayne with the airmail service,” Geoff said. “A good friend of mine, [Bob] has a lot of aviation background, he flew Air Force, airline, and was the chief pilot for Howard Hughes.”
The two became fast friends when they worked together to prevent Smith Field from being closed down in the early 2000s. Their efforts became successful with the help of local neighbors and thanks to a historic hangar on the premises.
“The historical key to Smith Field is a hangar built in 1929,” Geoff said. “It’s an old style, beautiful hangar, and when they were trying to close the airport they never spent any money fixing it up. I was thinking, what could we do with this hangar to save it? Back in the day during the big fight to save the airport, we contacted the historical society. We were able to get that structure on the historical sites list.”
With the historical site designation, Smith Field was safe. Now it was time to figure out how to best use the space, and the hangar. Once Bob came up with the idea for the airmail museum, the group, known as The Friends of Smith Field, hired Tessellate Studio out of New York City to present a preliminary concept of the plan, including images of what the museum and surrounding facilities would look like once work is completed.
With those projections in hand, The Friends of Smith Field are now working on raising $50,000 for a feasibility study to ensure the National Airmail Museum would be profitable enough. If the results there turn out well, the group will then work to raise the $2.5 million they estimate it would cost to build and open the museum.
A restaurant in an old terminal building is included in the plan, as a way to encourage more visitors and especially pilots to stop by for a visit. A headquarters for EAA Chapter 2, which has been heavily involved in the process, is included as well to give the chapter a home for the first time since it was founded in the 1950s.
“It’s something they never had,” Geoff said. “Right away I brought it up. Everybody thought it was the right thing to do. They’re all over this, helping us make this happen. It’s been a real good relationship so far, and I’m sure it will continue to be so.”