Skip to comments.Update on Fire at Yankee Air Museum
Posted on 10/13/2004 5:03:18 AM PDT by elephantman96
Rubble is all that remains of the 40,000-square-foot Yankee Air Museum and hangar at Willow Run Airport in Van Buren Township, former home to 13,000 artifacts, three historic planes used for flying tours and eight display aircraft.
The three working planes -- World War II vintage B25, B17 and C47 -- were rescued shortly after Saturday evening's devastating fire began, when four museum volunteers pushed them to safety.
The loss of the 23-year-old museum caused a widespread outpouring of support and attention -- the only silver lining for the often-overlooked attraction.
But attention and public sympathy won't pay the bills to restore what's been lost. The Yankee Air Museum faces a tough reality: It's starting over with almost nothing, and it will have to compete with other museums and nonprofits for funding in its bid to rise from the ashes.
For starters, the air museum needs a new hangar, estimated to cost $5.5 million. About $100,000 has been raised. Since the fire, two of the planes have been housed in another hangar, while the hulking B25 is parked outside at the airport. The long-term goal is to raise $55 million for a new, expanded museum with the hope of breaking ground in two years at Willow Run.
RELATED CONTENT # Reason for blaze still unknown
But plans for a new hangar or an expanded museum can't be made until Willow Run completes its own master plan at the end of the year, said Dennis Norton, president of the Michigan Aerospace Foundation, which raises money for the air museum. The museum can't afford to wait too long; it has to translate public sympathy into donations before it fades. The air museum does not receive state funds, and it pieces together a $1.3-million budget through membership fees, admissions and income from giving rides in the historic planes. The rides now become the museum's lone source of revenue.
Unlike most cultural institutions, the air museum doesn't have a system in place to deal with a devastating blow like this.
There's no team of fund-raising experts like there is at the Detroit Institute of Arts and other established museums. There is only one paid employee, the curator. A dedicated core of 40 volunteers has kept the place going, working up to three days a week, giving tours, tending the gift shop and maintaining the aircraft.
Timing couldn't be worse for a museum looking to start over. Museums around the country are facing tough financial tests with cuts in public, foundation, corporate and individual giving. In metro Detroit, some museums have delayed capital campaigns since 9/11, while others have cut budgets and staff over the past few years in response to dwindling dollars, lower attendance and a tough economy.
"We know it's tough to raise funds in the current fund-raising climate," said Jon Stevens, museum president. "But we're getting our name out so when the money starts flowing again, people will know us."
Since Saturday's fire, the air museum has received calls from people wanting to donate aviation books, and memorabilia from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The Air Force Museum near Dayton has also offered to help, although it hasn't been decided whether that includes loaning planes from its collection. In addition, Stevens said, Spirit Airlines offered its mechanics to help maintain the flyable B25 and other aircraft, and Eastern Michigan University has agreed to be the short-term archival home to hold artifacts as the air museum builds a new collection.
"We're just starting to pull together what we need to do," Stevens said. "But we do know one thing: What you're seeing is a group of people who care, and this place has a volunteer spirit second to none."
The fire has been especially hard on the volunteers, many of whom are retirees who use the words "family" and "sense of duty" to explain their deep commitment.
They mourn the historic photos of the B24 bomber plant that show how Ford Motor Co. transformed Willow Run into a village that once housed 40,000 workers and became known as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II.
Museum volunteer Richard Rice, 63, who spent the last nine years restoring a North American YOV10 Bronco aircraft, is grieving the loss of a legacy -- historic and personal.
Using a quarter-inch scraper, Rice had worked steadily from nose to tail of the Bronco -- flown during the Vietnam War -- peeling off the white paint to uncover the plane's original green gloss.
The plane was the only existing prototype modified by NASA with a sophisticated engine that allowed it to remain airborne at 40 m.p.h.
"I dedicated this plane to Vietnam vets," said Rice of Milford, who completed the restoration early this year.
"I remember a Vietnam vet who sat in the plane, shook my hand, and said, 'I now have closure.'
"It's just so sad that we won't be able to make those connections again."
For information, contact the Yankee Air Museum at 734-483-4030 or visit www.yankeeairmuseum.org.
We were at the Selfridge Air Museum this weekend and the hosts there said to go to the Yankee Air Museum next.
This is a dirty pity!
These planes must be a lot lighter then they look. I couldn't even imagine 4 guys being able to budge one, let alone push them out of hanger. Any comments from any one that has work around these planes would be appreciated.
They probably had a tow vehicle.
I'm sure the folks at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo (http://www.airzoo.org)would step up to provide a home for the remaining aircraft.
Of course, the standard response from the conspiracy theorists would be that the Airzoo staff should be prime suspects in the suspicious blaze.
Those older planes would look nice right next to the SR-71 that they have in Kalamazoo.
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