On a journey from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, that followed the historic route of what was US Route 66, I kept my promise to heed the little green signs I passed that pointed toward small town airports. Riding down the curving driveway in Lincoln, Illinois, at first the Logan County Airport (AAA) didn’t offer much hope, but when I rounded the curve, there, at the far side of the parking lot, was an A-7 and C-45.
It was one of the aircraft exhibited by the Heritage in Flight Museum. Dismounting to explore, the trim mustard yellow museum building was locked and unattended. The gate in the chain link fence was not locked, and there was no sign telling me to keep out, so I wandered among the other aircraft on display.
Parked in the well-trimmed grass on the far side of the narrow ramp were an F-4 Phantom, T-33, and UH-1 Huey. Given the weathered paint, they’d been there for awhile, and I wondered how the the military delivered them for display. Given the 4,000-by-70-foot measurements of Runway 3/21, certainly the Huey could have arrived with no problem. Conceivably the the C-45 Twin Beech could have done the same, and maybe the T-33. But A-7 and F-4 must have arrived on several trucks.
Hoping for a look inside I tried each of the building’s doors. All were locked, and I found no sign for the museum’s hours of operation. Perhaps it was like many small town museums, open only on weekends and staffed by volunteers, and I was exploring on Monday.
Finding the museum’s website, the Heritage in Flight Museum is dedicated to the preservation of aviation history from all military conflicts back to World War I, fought a century ago. “These mementos have been donated by both veterans and their families.”
The website offered this small town take on gaining access to the museum’s inside exhibits: “We currently don’t have a set hours of operation but most generally there is someone here on Saturdays between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. If no one answers the phone or no one is there please call 1(217)953-4118 and when they answer let them know you are wanting to see the museum and then they should tell you if they will be able to come right away or give you a time frame as to when they will be there to show you around and answer questions. We greatly appreciate your visit and apologize if no one was available to show you the Museum. The static displays outside are always available for your viewing.”
It was nice to learn (after the fact) that in poking into the corners around the adjacent hangar and light tower, I was not trespassing. Where the chain link fence met the hangar I found an extraordinary artifact; it was the right size and shape for a 16-inch naval round for the big guns on US battleships like the Missouri, Iowa, and New Jersey. On the other side of the fence were four more rounds strapped to pallet . If a veteran donated them, he was a world class collector of military mementos during his service.
The working 800 million candle power World War II searchlight, which is available “For Hire,” the website said, much have been inside. I wonder what other treasures lay hidden on the other side of those locked doors. This discovery will have to wait until the next time I pass this way. Route 66 beckons and holds the promise of more small town airport surprises to the west. – Scott Spangler, Editor