By Nick Brothers
In an effort to promote community awareness and encourage attendance, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum, located at 4290 School Ave., in Fayetteville, will be hosting “Airport Days at the Museum” on the third Saturday of each month through the summer. This Saturday, June 21, will be the first.
Doors will open at 8 a.m. and a pancake breakfast will be served from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. For lunch, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast and lunch are included with the normal museum tax deductible donation of $10.00 for adults, and $5.00 for children 6 to 12.
There will be museum board members and other volunteers on hand to answer questions about any of the exhibits. The documentary about The Wright Brothers and aviation, “The Wright Stuff,” will be screened all day in the museum gift shop, too.
There will also be pilots from SkyVenture who will be giving plane rides over Fayetteville for $30 a person. The planes used will allow for three passengers, and the flight will last about 15 minutes. A part of the proceeds will go to the Air Museum.
As it turns out, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum, located off School Avenue in Fayetteville is in need of some fundraising to help cover the cost of operations.
The historic landmark that’s been a part of Fayetteville for nearly 80 years is financially struggling to stay afloat. The board of directors have had to cut a lot of corners recently to make up for lost revenue, said Russ Smith, chief pilot and director of operations for Flying Investments at Drake Field. Smith is also a member of the museum’s board of directors.
“The foot traffic through the museum had about a 75 percent drop when I-540 opened,” Smith said. “We feel very few local residents today even know the Museum exist.”
Before the new highway took traffic away from the museum, about 26,000 people a year would tour the place. Now, the museum is lucky to get 6,000 visitors a year.
If the Museum were to close, the board of directors would have to send away the hundreds of artifacts, vehicles, airplanes and outfits the museum staff have collected from the military and service men and women over the years. Fortunately, the museum isn’t in that bad of shape yet, but the board is doing what is can to keep it open, Smith said.
It costs about $7,500 a month to operate the museum, and the museum only makes about $5,500 a month in revenue, said James Nicholson, treasurer for the museum board of directors. The City of Fayetteville also provides the museum with $12,000 for utilities a year, which is always used up.
“The board of directors have done an excellent job keeping the museum above water,” Nicholson said. “We’ve had to cover its cost for a number of years.”
In 1943, the wooden hangar that still stands on site today was built, and was used to train hundreds of civilians pilots for World War II. The air museum was started in 1987. Today, the museum holds several functional airplanes and experimental aircraft from different eras. A few are functional replica airplanes built by the Younkin brothers, who have been a part of Fayetteville aviation for decades. The museum also has Sam Walton’s first airplane on display.
Nearly every aircraft and vehicle in the two museums are active and were actually used in American wars. To think, the “Huey” helicopter that’s in the Military museum was actually used to transport troops in the Korean war.
In the hangar that holds the military museum is a restoration shop. Volunteers, mainly older veterans, come in from time to time to provide maintenance on the vintage aircraft.
Other than the executive director, the two museums are a volunteer effort of 21 board members and two part-time gift shop employees.
“The airport is an important asset to Fayetteville,” said Ray Boudreaux, president of the air museum’s board of directors. “We’re doing Airport Days to get a little bit of community excitement about it.”
The long term goal of the board of directors is to get the museum to a point where they can hire a curator to creatively display the exhibits and get the museum to become an eligible member of the American Alliance of Museums. With that status, the museum can partake in traveling exhibits.