By Nick Viggiano
I started a new aviation journey about a year ago. Two friends who did not know each other (at the time) were pulling me to Mount Pleasant, Texas, and the Mid America Flight Museum. One longtime friend, Jason Bell, who lives in Mt. Pleasant, was finally bitten by the aviation bug and was pursuing his private ticket. The other, longtime friend, Erik Johnston, an aviation videographer, was volunteering and producing YouTube videos for the Mid America Flight Museum, based at the Mt. Pleasant airport.
Well, after a minimum of arm-twisting, one Saturday in February, I headed east from Dallas to visit my friend, Jason, and the Mid America Flight Museum.
After meeting up with and having lunch with Jason, we headed to the museum. As we drove onto the airport, in a hanger off in the distance, I spotted two gleaming three-blade props! Just the props were visible in the sunlight, and the rest of the aircraft was in the shadows.
I blurted out P-38! JB answered NO. As we got closer, I was dumbfounded! Now, I know my warbirds and military aircraft, but I am so-so with classic civilian aircraft. The aircraft turned out to be a rare bird. The Howard 250 is a post-war executive conversion of a Lockheed Loadstar and one of the only four built with tricycle-landing gear.
As we got out of Jason’s truck, Gregg Williams, then on the museum’s staff and Jason’s flight instructor, greeted us. Unbeknownst to me, Jason had arranged a personal tour of the museum by Gregg.
And what a museum! The Howard is a beautiful airplane in pristine condition, like most of the aircraft at the museum. That day, I got to inspect many aircraft, including the FG-1D Corsair Marines Dream, B-25 God & Country, and a Ford Tri-Motor, that was in Honolulu on Dec. 7!
The Museum’s B-25 God & Country was the camera ship flown by Tallmantz Aviation. Paul Mantz and Frank Tallman were the famous aviators behind Tallmantz Aviation. They converted this B-25 into a highly modified camera ship that was used to film many movies, including 1000 Plane Raid and Catch 22.
The ground was not broken on the new 32,000-square-foot hanger, and there would be additions as the year would progress, but nothing would be more impressive than getting to know the founder and owner of the Mid America Flight Museum, Scott Glover.
I met Scott for the first time in March of 2016. The occasion was the stop over for President Eisenhower’s C-121A Lockheed Constellation. Scott and the Mid America Flight Museum’s crew was a major contributor in getting the Connie from Arizona to its new home in Bridgewater, Va. This Connie, named Columbine II, is the first presidential aircraft to be designated Air Force One. So, with such a rare bird visiting, it was a big event with people flying in from all over Texas and surrounding states to see this Connie!
As I continued visiting the museum the next few months, I was blown away by the hospitality and the accommodations provided me by Scott and the Mid America Flight Museum crew!
During this time, I was invited for a hop around Mt. Pleasant in the museum’s Douglas C-41.This aircraft is a DC-3 variant, modified at the factory to meet the U.S. Military specifications. It would become General Hap Arnold’s “personal aircraft” during WWII! If this plane could talk, what stories it could tell!
It is normal for Scott to invite people visiting the museum to fly in the museum’s planes when he takes one of his aircraft up. It was on Memorial Day that I was accepted as a volunteer and sat in on a meeting with Scott, museum staff, and volunteers. I had read the museum’s mission statement on their web page, but in the meeting, Scott emphasized the mission statement.
Honoring Veterans: Scott stated, “A Veteran will never pay for a ride in the museum’s aircraft!” It was the first weekend in September that proved to be a fine example of this mission statement. That Saturday, I was part of the crew that flew the museum’s C-47 Sky King to the Rusk County Airport Fly In. Sky King is the most historically documented combat Aircraft of WWII flying today.
That day, Sky King made eight hops, six with veterans and their family, and the last two with airport staff, volunteers, and first responders. Though all the rides were free, the smile and stories were priceless. Mentoring Kids: Scott knows that we must nurture our country’s youth to keep our aviation community, industry, and history strong and in the forefront of our nation’s consciousness.
The museum will take kids up in its 172 on occasion.
Preserving Aviation History: This is very important to everyone involved with Mid America. What a joy it is to be around very historic aircraft! Whether it is Sky King, General “Hap” Arnold’s C-41 or the 88-year-old Ford Tri-Motor, or many more aircraft, history is alive at the Mid America Flight Museum.
The highlight of 2016 for the Mid America Flight Museum (in my opinion) came on Oct. 14 and 15. This is when the museum hosted the “World War II Glider Pilots Association” reunion. The big 32,000-square-foot hanger was completed for this event, and none too soon to increase the display capacity. Both days the museum was flying their planes constantly, giving the members of the association and their family flights.
The aircraft that provided memories for a lifetime were the Waco YMF-5, Travel Air 4000, Stearman, P-51D LOU IV“, C-47 Sky King, and “Hap Arnold’s C-41.” Of course, there were a few C-47 pilots in the association, and no words can do justice to the range of emotions that went through these Heroes as they flew in these airplanes!
The work of the pilots, staff, and volunteers was monumental. The crew helped the veterans in and out of the planes. No small feat with gentlemen in their 90s, and in the case of the Mustang, even removing the pilot’s seat to facilitate getting the passenger in the backseat of the P-51.
When the planes were not flying, the crew was arranging the hanger for the diners on Friday and Saturday night, and the performance of the one-and-only Glen Miller Band. It was an honor and privilege to be part of this team.
Scott Glover, like a championship sports team owner, GM has assembled a winning team of classic aircraft and classy people.
Words and pictures cannot do justice to this event or any of the flying that went on at the Mid America Flight Museum in 2016.
To see more information, visit their website at midamericaflightmuseum.org or like and follow the Mid America Flight Museum Facebook page. For videos, visit Erik Johnston’s YouTube channel: youtube.com/user/ErikJohnston
2017 is setting up to be another great year out in Mount Pleasant and the Mid America Flight Museum!