Aircraft museum expands for heightened publicity

The 1941 Historical Aircraft Group Museum on Big Tree Lane has hosted the annual Geneseo Airshow and housed historical planes since 1994, and now has plans to expand and update its facilities.

“The expansion project is to build a new hangar and repair some unique airplanes,” HAG Museum President Austin Wadsworth said. “The overall strategy of this is to make the museum a much more visitor-friendly place.”

According to Wadsworth, the motivation for people to visit has dropped off. The public wants to see more programs and in-depth displays, so simply having the airplanes isn’t enough anymore, he said.

“We’ve evolved from a bunch of guys who worked on airplanes and did air shows, and now we’re switching our focus to our location here,” Wadsworth said.

Wadsworth said he thinks that the museum’s success is important not just because it preserves history but because of the possibility of bringing in tourism.

“We bring in about $1.3 million for the community during the air show,” he said. “I’d like to see the museum become a community destination.”

Planes undergoing repairs include the Douglas B-23 Bomber – of which only 23 models were ever made and none of which are flying now – and a C-47 that was the lead aircraft in the second wave on D-Day.

Stirlin Harris, a regular volunteer at the museum, said the C-47 is the most exciting part of the project for him. He is currently working on raising enough money for the plane to fly to Europe for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

“This whole place is a tribute to the men who flew in World War II primarily, and a lot of us are veterans, and we have great respect for those guys who flew back then … One way to keep the history alive is to keep these planes in the air,” Harris said.

According to Wadsworth, college students will directly benefit from this project because the museum is just a short distance from campus. He said that students often use the museum for internships and research and others volunteer, helping out in various capacities.

Alpha Phi Omega, Geneseo’s coed service fraternity, has sent groups to help out since spring 2011 according to Vice President of Service junior Sherry Leung.

APO member senior Margaret Craft said that she spent most of her time at the museum cleaning the hangars and helping to organize the library.

“They really appreciate any help they can get,” Craft said. “It’s rewarding to help out, and you feel like you’re making a difference.”

According to Wadsworth, preserving the museum for the next generation is his greatest concern.

“World War II guys won’t be with us for much longer, and not a lot of people get to see today what it’s like to stand next to one of these planes and hear it starting up,” Wadsworth said. “It’s exciting to be involved in this.”