Monday, June 09, 2014

Fair celebrates 25 years since WNC Air Museum took off

Back in the late 1980s, three aviators were working on a 1940s-era Stearman biplane when one of the trio, Ken Stubbs, had an idea: what if they created a museum for single-prop aircraft like the one they were restoring?

After setting up a corporation and securing tax-exempt status, the three men – Stubbs, Dennis Dunlap and Bill Schreier – started a membership drive and soon gained 100 members. They rented Hanger 61 at the Hendersonville Airport to store a few planes for public viewing, and the WNC Air Museum was born.

“That hanger's got a dirt floor in it, and I was remodeling First Citizens Bank at the time, so I tore out all the carpet and we carpeted the dirt floor,” recalled Dunlap, a local contractor and pilot. “We cleaned and blew the place out and then we'd open the thing up on Saturdays and Sundays for people to come and look through.”

That summer, the museum held its first Air Fair and Fly-In at the grass airstrip. For a small fee, any visitor could taxi off and tour the skies over Henderson County in a vintage aircraft donated by members. The money went toward a down payment on the museum's first hanger, located on adjacent Johnson's Airfield.

“And it kind of just grew from there,” Dunlap said.

Today, the museum has roughly 350 members, two hangers and a unique collection of 18 historic aircraft, mostly from the decades surrounding World War II. This weekend marked the 25th anniversary of the museum's fair, which now serves as its chief fundraiser and signature community event.

On Sunday, Stubbs and Dunlap perched in plastic chairs in a hanger overlooking the grass airstrip where their brainchild first took flight. Another Stearman, one of six restored by Dunlap, took off and landed every 15 minutes, its open cockpit filled by pilot Greg Collins and a paying passenger.

Grinning from ear to ear, Bob Grazio of Greer, S.C. stepped out on the biplane's lower wing and down a stepladder Sunday, while his wife, Kathy, took photographs. Grazio was one of more than 100 fair visitors who took the opportunity to sightsee from the PT-17 this weekend. 


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