|I left Amarillo Tradewinds airport on a hazy morning in my Bellanca Super Viking for a fun day up north. I headed for Liberal, Kansasa 45-minute flightto visit the Mid-America Air Museum, located on the tarmac at the Liberal airport. Unicom advised that runway 17 was active, which was handy, as the museum is on the ramp at the south end of 17. I cleared the runway and taxied right up to the door of the Museum. How convenient!
The Liberal airport was once an Army Air Base and was home for pilots training to fight in the B-24 Liberator bomber. More Liberators were built than any other Allied bomber during World War IIa total of 19,256 planesand nearly one third of all B-24 command pilots received their training at Liberal.
The runways for the training base are still in use by the airport today. The Museum has a display dedicated to the Army Air Base as it was during the war. The museum is contained in an 86,000 square foot building that was once a major assembly plant for Beechcraft. Here, they built the Baron, Duchess, Musketeer and Sundowner. If you fly any of these birds, you can bring them back to their nest for a reunion and a good visit.
A group of local citizens founded the Mid-America Air Museum in 1987. The concept was the result of a reunion of bomber group personnel who had been stationed at Liberal during World War II.
A large portion of the museum's success can be directly attributed to Col. Tom A. Thomas, Jr. USAF (ret.). Col. Thomas was an avid aircraft collector living in Oklahoma who loaned over 60 airplanes to the museum for display. In the fall of 1997, he permanently donated 52 planes of his collection valued at over $3 million.
After shooting down his fifth German while flying his P-40 fighter, Col. Thomas was captured in Sicily during World War II. He was hit by ground fire while engaging a German FW-190. While recuperating in a Sicilian hospital of burns and 2 broken legs, he had the unusual experience of meeting his German opponent, as well as the Italian gunner who downed him. Fortunately, he escaped from the enemy and returned to service to complete a total of 78 combat missions.
When they became available, Col. Thomas later flew a P-51B. He was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Oak Clusters, 11 other air medals, a POW medal and a Purple Heart.
Through the years, Col. Thomas built a collection of over 70 aircraft: antiques, vintage craft, and warbirds. For his 65th birthday in 1985, he flew 65 of his airplanes in less than eight hours as a celebrational challenge. Col. Thomas went West on December 29, 1998, and my heart goes out to a true hero who truly was one of America's children.
The Mid-America Air Museum offers something for everyone. They have the fifth largest collection of military and civil aircraft in the United States, housing 96 airplaneswith more in the works. Types of aircraft include military, homebuilts, hang gliders and ultra-lights situated around interactive displays, including the Korean War and the 1942 raid on Tokyo by General Jimmy Doolittle. The themes of these displays are engaging for even the casual enthusiast. This is a museum where you can get up closeas I did with one my favorites at the Beech Staggerwing display.
The museum is more than just aircraft. It houses one of the country's finest hands-on aviation science exhibits and plays host to special events like an annual air show (the next of which is scheduled for June 17th & 18th, 2000). The museum also features aerospace education for students in its 200-seat theater. You may want to make sure you visit the museum's gift shop for that special item or the model airplane kit of your choice.
The museum's operations now rest in the capable hands of Gregory Kennedy, who serves as the Executive Director. Kennedy spent 14 years in service with the Smithsonian, as well as time with the Smith Museum (American Airlines) in Dallas and the Space Center of Alamogordo, New Mexico. His experience and leadership is reflected in the personality of the Mid-America Air Museum. Special emphasis is given to the people, places, and planes that made Kansas and the Five State Region an important part of our country's aviation heritage.
One interesting member of the museum staff I had the pleasure of meeting was Frank Young, who heads up the restoration department. He is a one man do-it-all kind of guy who does some amazing work rebuilding and repairing airplanes. Young spent time as an Air Force Crew Chief and went on to be a test pilot for Beechcraft. He does all the metal forming, fabrication and glass work for the museum, making him an invaluable asset to the restoration of vintage aircraft.
When landing in Liberal, service, fuel, and rental and courtesy cars are available at Lyddon Aero Center, which is adjacent to the museum. The city of Liberal offers great food, lodging, and attractions. (I had a wonderful lunch at the Cattleman's II Cafe.) For more information on Liberal, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 316-624-3855.
The museum is open 7 days a week and is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. You may call it at 316-624-5263. You will also find it on the Internet at http://airplane.ozsome.com. But the best thing to do is actually fly there and see the Mid-America Air Museum in person. Tell them Skip at SW Aviator sent you.