The Journal Gazette
Thursday, August 30, 2018 1:00 am

Senate bill to back museum at Smith Field

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Indiana's U.S. senators announced Wednesday they have introduced legislation to designate an airplane hangar at Fort Wayne's Smith Field as the National Airmail Museum.

The National Airmail Museum Act sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Young and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly mirrors a bill introduced in February by Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd. The goal of such companion bills is to improve the chances that legislation will be considered by both houses of Congress.

The House approved Banks' proposal as an amendment to legislation it approved in April to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for five years. The Senate has yet to vote on the FAA measure.

The National Airmail Museum would be developed with private funds and consist of aircraft displays, interactive exhibits, photographs, the headquarters for Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 2, a gift shop and a cafe, according to museum advocates.

Commercial airmail service started at Smith Field in 1930, when the airport was known as Paul Baer Municipal Airport. Both Baer and Art Smith were celebrated pilots from Fort Wayne who died less than four years apart in plane crashes while delivering mail.

“I look forward to the transformation of Hangar 2 into a vibrant cultural and educational experience that will highlight Fort Wayne's important role in airmail history,” Young said in a statement.

Donnelly said in a statement that congressional designation would result in “driving tourism and allowing future generations to learn about Fort Wayne's role in our nation's airmail history.”

The bills filed by the senators and Banks would prohibit the use of federal funds for the museum.

Bob Wearley, leaders of the group promoting the museum, said the additional legislation should enhance local efforts to raise money for the project. Congressional designation would be “a real feather in Fort Wayne's cap,” he said in a telephone interview.

Museum supporters are trying to raise $50,000 for a feasibility study on the museum, which Wearley estimated would cost about $2 million to develop.

“We're not in this thing to make money. We're in here to preserve history, and that hangar is part of history,” he said.

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