BY WAYNE CRENSHAW
OCTOBER 24, 2019 05:00 AM, UPDATED OCTOBER 24, 2019 05:00 AM
Nov. 9 will mark 35 years since the Museum of Aviation opened its doors for the first time in what had been a surplus storage building.
Bill Paul, the museum’s first employee, is still there today. He said he hoped at the time it would grow to add a larger building, but didn’t envision what it would become.
“It just caught everybody’s imagination around here,” he said. “We’ve had unbelievable support from the community and the Air Force.”
The museum had just a few planes when it started and drew 30,000 people in 1985, the first full year of operation.
Today it has four large exhibit buildings, 85 aircraft and draws nearly 500,000 people a year. It is the second most visited Air Force museum and the fourth most visited museum in the Department of Defense, Paul said.
The museum is celebrating the anniversary with a gala on Nov. 9 that will feature U.S. Sen. David Perdue as the keynote speaker. Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center and current assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, will also speak.
The event will include a dinner and a dance party with Big Mike and the Booty Papas band.
Paul said the original building was pieced together from eight portable surplus storage buildings from Dobbins Air Force Base. That building is still there today. It’s the first on the right as visitors enter.
The museum operated out of that building until 1991 when what is today called the Nugteren Hangar was added. Later came the Eagle Building, which is the main building today, then the Century of Flight Hangar and the World War II Scott Exhibit Hangar.
After 37 years with the museum, including his time helping it get open, Paul is leaving soon to become curator of the Air Force Missile and Space Museum at Cape Canaveral.
Paul said he is sad to leave but sees nothing but more growth for the Museum of Aviation.
“We are just getting started,” he said.
Tickets to the gala are $100 and can be purchased at museumofaviation.org. The deadline is Nov. 4.
The annual Auction/Raffle & Taste of Local Cuisine to benefit the Museum of Aviation Foundation will be held July 20. AMY MADDOX TELEGRAPH FILE PHOTO