Air Mail museum at Smith Field meets goal to fund feasibility study

Smith Field was the city's first airport when it opened in the 1920s, and the main hangar could be the site of a National Air Mail Museum.
The proposed museum would featured a variety of interactive displays. (Courtesy image)

A campaign to create a national airmail museum at Smith Field has collected the $50,000 needed to begin a feasibility study. President Donald Trump signed legislation in 2018 that designated historic Hangar 2 at the north-side airport as the site for the museum.

Tom Kelley, President of Kelley Automotive Group, said in a statement he is “excited to see this initiative become a reality for the community of Fort Wayne and the nation preserving this important piece of aviation history. The National Museum will portray the growth of the early development of commercial aviation . . . and will entice young aviation enthusiasts to pursue a career in aviation.”

“The feasibility study is the first big step to test project viability and exploring the sustainability to ensure long-term success of the project,” stated Chuck Surack, CEO of Sweetwater Sound who, along with, Mark Music, CEO of Ruoff Home Mortgage, also supports the museum.

The feasibility study will be performed by Consult Econ Inc. of Cambridge, MA., in collaboration with Tessellate Studio in New York City.

The National Airmail Museum will rely on private funding, as legislation was previously passed by the US Senate declaring that no government funding will be made available for the project. To donate to the Museum Restoration Fund, checks should be made out to the “Friends of Smith Field”P.O. Box 28New Haven, IN 46774Or go to; https://www.gofundme.com/National-Air-Mail-Museum.

As The News-Sentinel reported in 2016, the $2.5 million project would convert the 1920s-era hangar into a museum dedicated to aviation pioneers, many of whom passed through Fort Wayne. The first regularly scheduled airmail service in the United States was on May 15, 1918, between Washington, D.C., and New York City, with a stop in Philadelphia. Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 became the first pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop, also flew the mail. He and such well-known peers as World War I ace of aces Eddie Rickenbacker could be featured, but so would local legends such as Paul Baer, America’s first WWI ace; and barnstormer Art “Bird Boy” Smith, for whom Smith Field, the city’s first airport, was named. And when a new airport was built south of town before World War II, it was named Baer Field before later becoming Fort Wayne International Airport.

The would feature interactive, hands-on exhibits and would also be home to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Chapter 2 Headquarters, gift shop and an aviation-themed restaurant.

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