Col­lec­tion to leave Galve­ston for Elling­ton, where sci­ence will join his­tory

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Kather­ine Blunt

GALVE­STON — Larry Gre­gory rec­og­nized the dis­tinc­tive sput­ter of the T-6 Texan well be­fore the sun­flower yel­low air­craft roared into sight, swoop­ing to­ward Galve­ston’s West Bay in one of its last is­land flights.

The pres­i­dent of the Lone Star Flight Mu­seum came to know the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of the World War II trainer plane dur­ing count­less trips over the bay as he showed vis­i­tors the view from in­side some of the na­tion’s old­est war­planes. They’ve lived in a han­gar at Sc­holes In­ter­na­tional Air­port for nearly 30 years, and soon, they’ll all make a one-way trip to the main­land.

“It’s a bit­ter­sweet day,” Gre­gory said. “I’ll miss be­ing a tour guide over Galve­ston.”

The flight mu­seum opened for the last time on Satur­day with free ex­hibits and flight raf­fles that drew hun­dreds of fam­i­lies and nos­tal­gic old­timers in­side the cav­ernous space. In a mat­ter of weeks, its roughly 40 his­toric planes will re­lo­cate to a new $38 mil­lion fa­cil­ity set to open on La­bor Day week­end at Hous­ton’s Elling­ton Air­port.

The re­lo­ca­tion is a twopronged ef­fort to pro­tect the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion from the storms that pe­ri­od­i­cally sweep the is­land and mod­ern­ize its ap­peal by of­fer­ing pro­grams in­volv­ing sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math, or STEM. For ex­am­ple, the new mu­seum will have classes in aero­dy­nam­ics and flight sci­ence, bring­ing them to life with a flight sim­u­la­tor. The goal:

ex­cite a younger gen­er­a­tion about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of STEM ca­reers.

“Telling a group of 4-year-olds that a plane weighs 25,000 pounds is in­ter­est­ing, but it does noth­ing for them,” Gre­gory said. “Putting it in terms they can un­der­stand is key.”

Mu­seum ex­ec­u­tives de­cided to re­lo­cate the col­lec­tion shortly af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ike flooded the Galve­ston han­gar in 2008, dam­ag­ing some of the planes. Many parts, de­signed for air­craft built decades ago, proved dif­fi­cult to re­place through mod­ern sup­pli­ers.

Al­most all the planes are still in work­ing con­di­tion. They’ll fly to­gether next month to the new fa­cil­ity, where they will oc­cupy two 30,000-square­foot hangars.

As in Galve­ston, the mu­seum will still of­fer fly­ing tours and ex­hibits cen­tered on Texas avi­a­tion his­tory.

On Satur­day, vis­i­tors mar­veled at the mas­sive air­craft and squinted at the small plaques that out­lined their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Some came to rem­i­nisce, wear­ing Air Force ball caps and pa­tri­otic shirts in the shadow of planes that fought in Europe, the Soviet Union and Asia in last cen­tury’s ma­jor con­flicts.

Don West­more­land, a long­time Galve­ston res­i­dent, re­called rid­ing his mo­tor­cy­cle to see the mu­seum’s planes fly in when it was first con­structed in 1990. His fa­vorites were the bombers, the B-17 and the B-25 mod­els that served World War II avi­a­tors.

“It was a la­bor of love, for sure,” he said. “They’ve re­ally built it up over the years.”

For Char­lie Finn, a Texas City res­i­dent, the planes re­minded him of his time in the Navy, when he worked on F-4 Phan­toms as an elec­tri­cal tech­ni­cian in the 1960s. He later got a pi­lot’s li­cense and a plane of his own, which he flew out of Wil­liam P. Hobby air­port be­fore it be­came a com­mer­cial hub for South­west Air­lines.

He’s vis­ited the mu­seum fre­quently over the years, of­ten with friends who got a sim­i­lar thrill out of learn­ing what some of the ear­li­est planes could do.

“We would walk around dream­ing dreams,” he said.

Steve Gon­za­les photos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Bran­don Landry car­ries his 2-year-old son, Jack, in front of a Boe­ing B-17 Fly­ing Fortress at the Lone Star Flight Mu­seum.

A T-6 Texan, part of the Lone Star Flight Mu­seum, takes one of its last flights over Galve­ston on Satur­day.

Steve Gon­za­les / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Capt. Kevin McGowan, right, gives Steve Giesler in­struc­tions be­fore his flight in a T-6 Texan at the Lone Star Flight Mu­seum in Galve­ston. The mu­seum is re­lo­cat­ing to Hous­ton and hosted a farewell event on Satur­day.

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