The U.S. House voted Thursday to designate the large hangar at Fort Wayne's Smith Field as the National Airmail Museum. The proposal was made by Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, and included in legislation that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for six years.
Banks' amendment, which he originally introduced in February as a stand-alone bill, would prohibit the use of federal funds for development of the museum, which would be financed by private sources.
“This recognition would be a great addition to my community and a vital tool to educate the American people on the significant role airmail played in the evolution of aviation,” Banks said during floor debate broadcast by C-SPAN.
Congressional designation of the museum “would propel the ongoing initiative to preserve and share the history of airmail,” Banks said.
The U.S. Postal Service began airmail delivery in 1911, Banks said, and commercial airmail service started at Smith Field in 1930, when the airport was known as Paul Baer Municipal Airport.
City native Baer was a World War I combat pilot who died in a plane crash in China in 1930 while transporting mail. The airport was renamed in 1944 for Art Smith, a celebrity stunt pilot from Fort Wayne who died in a plane crash near Montpelier, Ohio, in 1926 while transporting mail.
The National Airmail Museum would consist of aircraft displays, interactive exhibits, photography displays, the headquarters for Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 2, a gift shop and a cafe, according to www.nationalairmailmuseum.org.
Banks said the Smith Field building is the only example of Clark W. Smith's patented carousel design for an airplane hangar.