AVIATION HISTORY AND SPACE FLIGHT IN HOUSTON, TEXAS

1940 AIR TERMINAL MUSEUM

1940 Air Terminal Museum located adjacent to, Hobby Airport, is the original Houston Municipal Airport. It is a magnificent location to plane watch because you can safely walk onto the tarmac.  The art deco building was a Works Project Administration (WPA) project when Houston was an up and coming city mostly due to the oil and gas business.  In 1956, the last year the Terminal operated, it served over nine hundred thousand travelers. The building was left to decay in the 1960’s, however the tower remained active until the 1970’s to service Hobby Airport. A group of aviation and history enthusiasts gathered to keep and renovate the site and it reopened to the public in 2003. The Terminal was designed by Joseph Finger, who also designed Houston’s City Hall. The original marble floors, art deco style railings and the art deco chandler still hang in the Air Terminal.

Today, there is one paid staff member and many volunteers at the Terminal. One volunteer worked on the Lunar Lander for NASA and created a display about the Space Program.

Lunar Lander

My two guides for my visit, Jack and Russell are enthusiastic volunteers and related personal stories of the vintage building.

 

 

TODAY’S MISSION

Air Terminal Waiting Room

The main mission of the Air Terminal is “keeping the space alive,” Amy Rogers, the Executive Director told me. The Terminal hosts a number of functions throughout the year, from Kids camps, Women in Aviation, Plane Spotting, Wings on Wheels, as well as many private events, which include weddings.  While it is the goal of the Air Terminal to preserve its history, they also want to bring in new visitors and are focused on collaborations with other groups than just aviation.

Plane Spotting (akin to bird watching for aircraft) is big at that Air Terminal.  During the last Super Bowl held in Houston, seventy-five European men came to the Terminal to take pictures of the airplanes that were flown into Hobby Airport.

AIRLINE HISTORY

The Terminal served international flights to Mexico and South America via Braniff Airlines and Pam Am Airlines. Trans Texas Airways initially flew only throughout the State of Texas but would merge with Continental Airlines to begin service to the Mexico and South American routes.

CELEBRRTY CONNECTION

James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor made a stop at the Terminal when they were filming Giant.  The Elizabeth Taylor bathroom hasn’t changed much since she was there.  Humphrey Bogart also passed through the terminal on his travels.

EXHIBITS

Throughout the Terminal you will find artifacts on the aircraft and personnel that worked in the Terminal.  Individuals donate model aircraft to the museum continuously and many are on display. Both Braniff and Trans Texas Airways aviation history is well defined here.

Trans Texas Letter

An interesting artifact is a letter to one of the Trans Texas stewardesses regarding her weight. Back then the airlines had strict weight restrictions for stewardesses. The 60’s uniforms were colorful as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Barnhart’s Lockheed Lodestar has a place of honor outside the Terminal on the tarmac. Barnhart was a fifth generation Texan, an Eagle Scout, engineer, oil tycoon and philanthropist. He purchased the plane in 1968 and it was donated to the Terminal in 2002.

Lockheed Lodestar

 

 

TERMINAL HANGER

The Terminal’s Hanger dates to 1928, and was originally used as an air mail hanger. Howard Hughes was a big influence on the Houston aviation and occupied the hanger next door.

Cessna

Inside you will find several pieces of vintage navigational equipment that were used in the tower as well as two King Air Flight Simulators. There are several aircraft on display, including the Cessna that the Terminal will raffle off this year for its yearly fundraising event.  As you walk outside the hanger you will see many aircraft getting ready for takeoff on the runway.  The Southwest jets were pretty close as they prepared for takeoff.

Southwest

If you want to have an up close look at aircraft, this is the place to do it.  The 1940 Air Terminal holds more than the aviation history of Houston and an indelible spot in many locals’ memories.

http://www.1940airterminal.org/

LONE STAR FLIGHT MUSEUM

Lone Star Flight Museum

Lone Star Flight Museum has recently relocated from Galveston to Ellington Air Field in Houston.  The massive facility houses vintage aircraft that fly. With some 24 aircraft on display, you can view vintage aircraft including the Stearman; War birds including the B-17 and B-25 to the passenger plane DC-3 in the enormous easily accessible hangers.

DC-3

 

 

 

A special exhibition is Wood and Canvas of World War1 Aviation Art of Jim Dietz which pays tribute to aviations’ coming of age in World War 1. These reproductions of Dietz artwork commemorate the combat aviators that sowed the seed of combat aviation today.

Combat Aviation Artwork

 

 

 

 

 

AVIATION HERITAGE GALLERY

Walk through Texas Aviation Heritage Gallery, a chronological history of aviation in Texas. With its interactive screens and displays, here you can learn the history of Texas aviation endeavors and the men and women who made it happen.

In the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame you can pay homage to Texans that were and are the movers and shakers of the aviation world.  Some may surprise you.

Be sure to add The Lone Star Flight Museum to your list to visit. Take a ride in a vintage Stearman or B-17 bomber.  You will surely not be disappointed.

https://www.lonestarflight.org/

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER

Johnson Space Center is the integral part of NASA.  Houston is where the astronauts do most of their training and where the space flights are controlled through Mission Control.

 

TRAM TOUR

The tram tour is an open tram ride through the Johnson Space Center.  In just under two hours you will visit Mission Control, the Space Vehicle Mock Up Center where men and machines are being prepared for future missions. You will also visit a Saturn 5 rocket that was flight ready back in the 1970’s.  The massive rocket lies on its side in a hanger created for it.  You can get up close to the colossus.  The Apollo Space Program is recounted here in displays of the crews and their flight missions.

SPACE VEHCLE MOCK UP CENTER

Here you will view what’s next for the space program. From the new space station designs to the robots that will assist the astronauts, to the vehicles they will use to explore, and the space craft that will make the voyage, this massive facility is at the forefront of new technology.

Mars

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SPACE SHUTTLE

Space Shuttel and 747

Just outside the Space Center, you can walk through the Space Shuttle and the 747 that carried her.  You will discover just how small the shuttle was and the engineering it took to get it off the ground.

 

 

MARS

The next great mission of NASA will be a mission to Mars.  How will we get there? What will take us there?  How will we survive?  These are some of the questions they seek to answer at Johnson.

Travel to Mars

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASTRONAUNT GALLERY AND EXHIBITS

The Astronaut Gallery pays tribute to all the crews that have flown in space.  Next to the Gallery you will a number of spacesuits worn by astronauts from the Apollo program through and the Space Shuttle.  Also on display are many spacesuits that will be used on the journey to Mars.

 

You may also want to enjoy one of the several IMAX films that are featured during the day. In the central area do the Center you can see how NASA will get to Mars and live there and participate in numerous demonstrations about Mars. Inside another gallery, you can touch a moon rock and you will see space suits and artifacts from various missions.

 

Gloves used by Scott Kelly

There is plenty to keep the children entertained at Johnson from flight simulators to a play area. Many adults can relive their memories of the space program and be just as engrossed as the kids in the anticipated Mars journey.  One my visit, I even came across some vintage TV memorabilia in the Food Court.

Star Trek Galileo 7

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/index.html

Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham, Alabama

Southern Museum of Flight

Southern Museum of Flight is a unique aviation museum located near the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama is a place for all ages who are interested in aviation history and aircraft.  Open since 1983, here you will learn about the beginning of flight from the Wright Brothers Flyer to the sleek SR-71, Blackbird.  The size of the bowtie shaped museum is a bit deceiving but the seventy-five thousand feet houses over a hundred aircraft displays, including aircraft from the early days of flight to the newer experimental planes. It is literally chock full of every kind of airplane you can imagine.

With nearly sixty thousand visitors each year, the museum can be a busy destination especially during the school year. Education is at the core of the museum and two-thirds of the sixty thousand annual visitors are school age children. They have a dedicated teaching area for school tours that can accommodate one hundred children.  The staff of ten and the group of dedicated volunteers make the museum a centerpiece for Birmingham.

During my visit, I spoke with both Wayne Novy, the Director of Operations and Curator of the collection and Brian Barsanti, Ph.D., who has been the Executive Director since 2014. Both are former military men and dedicated to the preservation of flight history.  Novy is retired from the Air Force and worked with Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8. Barsanti is a Coast Guard reservist and educator who teaches at both UAB and Huntington College.

Tuskegee Exhibit

In the main hanger we began our tour with an impressive exhibit about the Tuskegee airman which includes short videos and artifacts from members of the Tuskegee airmen.

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the Tuskegee Airmen

 

 

 

 

One display focuses on a visit by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the airmen’s training facility. To show her support of the Tuskegee airmen, the First Lady flew with Alfred Anderson on a short flight.

MI-24 Hind

The Russian MI-24 Hind helicopter demotes the main hanger space. This enormous helicopter flew military men, machines and supplies.

Lake Murray Exhibit

Continuing with the history of the Tuskegee airmen, there is a large display about a B-25 that was raised from Lake Murray in South Carolina in 2005 where it crashed during in April of 1945 during a training exercise.  This is one of the very few planes that remain that was flown by the Tuskegee airmen.  At present only a small section of the salvaged plane is displayed but the volunteers and staff are hard at work in the restoration shop to bring the entire aircraft back to life for display.

Additional restoration

Both the Korean War and Vietnam War are remembered through two large static displays, video presentations and many artifacts that have been donated to the museum.

Korean war display
Vietnam War display

 

 

 

 

 

Wright Flyer

We continued in the next wing to explore the beginning of flight with the Wright flyer and displays of early aircraft including a Huff-Deland crop duster biplane used by the Delta Air Corp, a Fokker D7 flown in World War One and a Model T and 1903 Cadillac.

D7 Fokker

In the display cases are artifacts that denote moments in aircraft evolution.  From the early escapades of wing walking to pilot Eugene Pyle’s first take off from the USS Birmingham in 1910 in Curtis D model byplane, the stories that are told are awe inspiring.

USS Birmingham

 

 

 

 

EAA hanger

On entering the experimental aircraft hanger, you will find every shape and size of airplane.  These are mostly homemade crafts that are built from the ground up by their owners. The EAA planes fill every nook and cranny of the hanger. When an owner donates an aircraft to the museum, many times the craft lands at the nearby Birmingham airport and is simply brought by trailer to its new home.

Be sure to look up

 

 

 

Women in Aviation are featured in a display of photographs by Carolyn Russo depicting seventeen contemporary women pilots.

Women in Aviation

We were lucky enough to investigate the museum’s restoration shop where they are working on a T-21 unmanned drone used to take photos high res pictures of Soviet Union.

T-21 Drone

The craft was flown by the NRO, National Reconnaissance Office and the program ended in 1972.   It was preprogrammed to fly and would ditch cameras and crash then a C130 was tasked to pick up the ditched cameras. Barsanti liken it to the wile e coyote school of reconnaissance flight.  As well as restoring aircraft, the staff and volunteers build wind tunnels and display cases.

SR-71 space suit

Back inside, we visited the SR-71 Blackbird exhibit. A static display of this magnificent craft is located two blocks from the museum along with many other planes.  The custom made flight suits worn by the pilots are more akin to space suits due to the attitudes that the pilots flew.  In 1990, Ed Yeilding, a pilot from Florence, Alabama made the last blackbird flight from Los Angeles to DC in sixty-seven minutes, fifty-four seconds flying at times two thousand miles an hour.  At that speed, he said, it is hard to tell the separation of earth.  Try that on Delta sometime.

https://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2016/10/alabama_pilot_remembers_flying.html

Near the Blackbird exhibit are enormous handcrafted models of both the USS Birmingham and USS Enterprise are housed in large display cases. Both models were built from scratch in a volunteer’s garage and took eighteen months to complete.

USS Enterprise
USS Birmingham

 

 

To complete our tour, we reviewed the “CIA exhibit” housed in the main conference area of the museum.  This exhibit features paintings of aircraft, mostly combat situations, and feature several planes that are on display at the museum.  A brief written background about the scene accompanies each painting or artifact. The exhibit was recreated with the permission of the CIA.  One interesting story happened during a tour of the exhibit when a gentleman remarked that he had something to donate regarding the Fall of Saigon.  Turns out the visitor had been at the Embassy and had recovered an official seal from the Embassy.

Embassy seal

The Southern Museum of Flight is a exceptional and exciting place to celebrate Alabama’s role in aviation history. The museum also houses the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame. The museum is just at the beginning its capital campaign to raise money the museum’s site transfer. Its new home will be on a new twenty-four acre site near the Barber Motorsports Museum which should open in 2020.

Future Home
Future plans

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.southernmuseumofflight.org/