FAA Bill Creates National Airmail Museum

By Scott Spangler on October 22nd, 2018

100_photo1Title V of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 is an accumulation of Congressional mandates that don’t qualify for its other titles, like Title IV—Air Service Improvements, and Title III—Safety. This item caught my eye. It’s short, so here’s a copy and paste of the whole thing.

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress finds that—
(1) in 1930, commercial airmail carriers began operations at Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana;
(2) the United States lacks a national museum dedicated to airmail; and
(3) the airmail hangar at Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana—
(A) will educate the public on the role of airmail in aviation history; and
(B) honor the role of the hangar in the history of the Nation’s airmail service.
(1) IN GENERAL.—The airmail museum located at the Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is designated as the ‘‘National Airmail Museum’’.
(2) EFFECT OF DESIGNATION.—The national museum designated by this section is not a unit of the National Park System and the designation of the National Airmail Museum shall not require or permit Federal funds to be expended for any purpose related to that national memorial.

Image result for national airmail museum

Asking Google about it let me to the National Airmail Museum’s website. Now fundraising, the museum will not only educate visitors about the airmail era, it will describe Fort Wayne’s role in the system’s development. Housed in Hangar 2 at Smith Field Airport, the museum will feature interactive and hands-on exhibits that will give visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation of the trials and tribulations of the pilots and those who supported them. It will also be home to EAA Chapter 2, a gift shop, and a uniquely themed dining experience.

Hangar 2 is itself a bit of history. To quote the website: Built in the 1920s, “Hangar 2 features three large Truscon Steel Company Doors, a highlight unique to Smith Field in the U.S. at the time they were built. The Carousel Hangar, although outside the period of significance defined for Smith Field, is the only example of Clark W. Smith’s patented design ever built. The hangar is characterized by an innovative rotating carousel door. Smith Field’s tie-down area recalls the era before World War II when hangars were used for maintenance rather than storage, and the aircraft had to be tied down to spiral-shaped stakes in the ground.”

Historic postcard of Smith Field, c. 1940Unlike most airports in operation today, Smith Field was not built for or during World War II. It grew then, but Fort Wayne inspected the site in 1919, pilots started learning to fly there in 1923, and it was established at the Baer Municipal Airport in 1925, named for Paul Baer, America’s first ace in World War I. During World War II, when the Army Air Forces appropriated Baer’s name for its airfield south of town, Fort Wayne renamed the airport for its airmail pioneer, Art Smith.

Art Smith (pilot) 1915.jpgBorn on February 27, 1890 in Fort Wayne, he died on February 12, 1926, the second overnight mail service pilot to die on duty. His parents mortgaged their home in 1910 so Art could build his first plane. Teaching himself to fly, he crashed on its first flight. Learning by trial and error, he became a stunt pilot, taking over at the official Panama-Pacific International Exhibition’s stunt flyer when Lincoln Beachey did not survive a crash in San Francisco Bay. During World War I he was an Army test pilot and instructor, stationed at Virginia’s Langley Field McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. He joined the Post Office after the war and flew overnight mail between New York City and Chicago, and died on his route near Montpelier, Ohio.

Aviation as we know it today would not exist without the people who created the airmail system and made it work. That they deserve national recognition should be beyond question. Equally important, aviators today should support the National Airmail Museum because in recognizing the dedication and sacrifices of pioneers like Art Smith, we can inspire these traits among those who are building aviation’s future. Scott Spangler, Editor.

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