Western North Carolina Air Museum

A destination in Hendersonville, North Carolina, takes visitors into the early skyways. Aviation has evolved, but many pioneering aircraft survive.

The 1920s-40s are considered the “golden age of aviation.” Barnstormers, daredevils, and stunt pilots—many of them aerial heroes of World War I (1914-18)—buzzed around the United States, struggling to earn a living. They sold joy rides and hired themselves to drop pamphlets and stream banners above public events.

At a museum in Hendersonville, North Carolina, visitors scrutinize up-close some of the flimsy aircraft they flew. They even can climb aboard for a plane or helicopter ride.

The Age of the Self-Made Airplane Pilot

Americans of the Ragtime and Depression eras and into the 1950s were thrilled by the rare approaching buzz of a small plane. If the pilot landed in a field or pastoral “airpatch”—the precursor of the modern airport—locals thronged to the scene. They were keen to scrutinize a machine that could defy gravity and to meet the intrepid aviator.

By World War II (1938-45), people with no military experience were getting into the act. Small, single-prop planes became available for general purchase. So did airplane kits. For a few hundred dollars, enthusiasts could buy a plane kit from a department store, assemble it and teach themselves to fly.

The Western North Carolina Air Museum

At the Western North Carolina Air Museum, visitors can see the transition from early planes to modern recreational craft, including ultra-lights. The improvements in design and options are striking—as are the similarities.

Stories woven into aviation history here are fascinating. An example is the museum’s 1930 Curtiss Robin. Douglas Corrigan flew one like it across the Atlantic in 1938. Charles Lindbergh had made the first transatlantic flight years earlier. What was unusual about Corrigan’s adventure was that he did it in defiance of government red tape. Authorities refused to approve his airplane for the trip. Corrigan, therefore, filed a flight plan in Brooklyn, New York, specifying California as his destination. Twenty-eight hours after takeoff, “Wrong Way” Corrigan landed in Ireland.

From the same period is the museum’s Aeronca C-3, dubbed the “Little Bathtub.” Piper Cubs from the 1930s-40s are exhibited.

Also displayed are aviation relics—old flight manuals, photos of historic planes and pilots, airplane models, antiquated engines, and other plane parts.

The Air Museum Is a Volunteer-Driven Project

Founded in 1989, the museum focuses on the Smoky Mountain aviation history of western North Carolina. On a broader basis, it chronicles the aerial legacy of the entire state—and beyond. Restorations and reproductions are presented alongside original airplanes. Staff are volunteer pilots and lovers of aviation.

The museum defines itself as “The First Air Museum in the ‘First in Flight’ State.” (North Carolina bases its “First in Flight” claim in the Wright brothers’ historic 1903 feat at Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks.)

The Western North Carolina Air Museum is housed on Brooklyn Avenue, adjacent to the Hendersonville Airport. It is open, free of charge, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (10 to 5 on Saturdays between April and October). Museum members ($30 individual, $40 family) have grill-out meetings the fourth Thursday evening of the month, April through October.

Special events occasionally are scheduled. An Air Fair is presented the first weekend each June (June 5-6, 2010).

For more information, visit the Website or call (828) 698-2482.

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