NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: National legislators should endorse National Airmail Museum at Smith Field
In August last year about 100 people gathered in Hangar 2 at Smith Field on the north side of Fort Wayne to learn about a proposal to convert that historic building into the National Airmail Museum.
News-Sentinel.com favors the project as a both a monument to Fort Wayne’s rich history in aviation and a potential gathering place for both the community and tourists — as long as it gains the needed support and shows that it can be self-sustaining.
The latest news about the museum proposal was last week’s introduction of legislation in the Senate by Indiana’s Todd Young, Republican, and Joe Donnelly, Democrat, to designate such a museum at Smith Field to celebrate the airport’s history. The National Airmail Museum Act, Senate bill S. 3402, was also introduced to the House of Representatives in February (H.R. 5039) by Rep. Jim Banks (R-3rd District).
Banks said in April that congressional designation of the museum “would propel the ongoing initiative to preserve and share the history of airmail.”
The idea was first laid out by Bob Wearley, a retired Air Force pilot and former member of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority. The project would cost about $2.5 million and would depend on major fund-raising (pending a feasibility study).
When Banks introduced the bill, he made an amendment to stipulate that federal funds could not be used for development of the museum, but that it would be financed by private sources.
Smith Field was named after Art Smith, an aviation pioneer from Fort Wayne who had a crucial role in the development of airmail. In fact, he died in 1926 when crashing near Montpelier, Ohio, in a February airmail flight from Chicago to Cleveland.
Fort Wayne’s first municipal airport was built in 1925 on the northwest side of town on Ludwig Road. It was first named Baer Municipal Airport after another famous local pilot, Paul Baer, who also died flying airmail (in China in 1930). But it became Smith Field when, in 1941, the U.S. government chose the south side of Fort Wayne for a military base and named that Baer Field, now Fort Wayne International Airport.
Wearley is president of Friends of Smith Field Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit. His group sponsors nationalairmailmuseum.org, which outlines the museum project, explaining the goal of creating an exciting venue to bring the stories of airmail to life “through interactive exhibits, artifacts and hands-on experiences.” The website explains that the group’s mission is “to inspire a new generation of aviation enthusiasts and bring life to the rich history of pilots and aircraft in and around Fort Wayne, including the story of the National Airmail Service.”
Wearly told News-Sentinel.com reporter Kevin Leininger last year that the museum could help pay for itself by being available for wedding receptions and other rentals. The project will include aircraft displays, photography displays, a gift shop and a cafe.
Friends of Smith Field Inc. accepts donations for the project through its website and is also sponsoring a trip on Sept. 15 to Dayton’s National Museum of the United States Air Force, designating 70 percent of the cost as tax deductible donations to support the museum.
While we support the project and encourage public support to make it happen, we also encourage our national legislators to vote to endorse the National Airmail Museum at Smith Field as well.