Martin aviation museum nearly off the ground, but airlift of 2 future exhibits postponed by fog

May 18, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The people gathered at the end of the runway at Glenn L. Martin State Airport in Middle River yesterday morning have made some headway in lifting the fog of years from memories of local aircraft manufacturing. Unfortunately, they could do nothing about the fog in the sky.

As a result, the planned airlift of two B-57s, reconnaissance versions of short-range bombers that were made nearby in the 1950s at what is now the Martin Marietta Corp., was postponed until May 27.

The long-abandoned planes are parked in woods at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Far from airworthy, the planes were to be delivered by two huge helicopters piloted by Maryland and Pennsylvania National Guard units to the nascent Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum, the dream of a couple of hundred local history buffs that's on the verge of becoming reality.

About 25 members of the as-yet-unopened museum were on hand at a remote part of the airport, many dressed in hats, caps and belts that sported aviation themes, to greet the planes yesterday. They passed the time looking over old engineering drawings for the B-57 as they waited in vain for warming temperatures to lift the ground-hugging cloud cover so that the Chinook choppers could lift their big payloads.

The precise drawings on linen of the twin-engine jet that was based on a British plane, the Canberra, are part of the trove of materials, including about 2,000 reels of film, recently recovered from Martin Marietta, which was about to discard the hoard.

Instead, it was handed over to the 200 or so people who have joined in an effort to establish a museum dedicated to what was known as the Glenn L. Martin Co. when it first opened in the Middle River area in 1929. At one point during World War II, more than 50,000 people worked there turning out planes such as the B-26 Marauder.

The first displays are scheduled to open in August in a room beneath one of the hangars at Martin Airport. A video about the Glenn L. Martin Co. and a variety of memorabilia tracing the history of the company are planned. Aircraft pioneer Glenn Martin operated the company in Los Angeles and Cleveland before moving it to Middle River.

"This is an all-volunteer organization," emphasized Gene DiGennaro, the museum group's treasurer. "We are renting our space from the state. I'm a taxpayer, and I wouldn't want to see tax money going to something like this."

The group, which has no formal name, is financing its efforts through donations and membership fees.

Mr. DiGennaro said his garage is filled with various pieces of the two B-57s that were brought by about a dozen members of the museum, who have spent a year making trips to Aberdeen, removing the engines, four reconnaissance cameras, instruments and other parts from the planes, reducing their weight to about 20,000 pounds apiece so that they can be lifted by the helicopters.

"I've got two wingtip tanks on my front yard," he said. "And when you open my garage door, all you can see is aircraft parts. Unfortunately, my lawn chairs are in the back of the garage. My wife's getting after me, so everything's going to have to come out to get to those chairs."

Stan Piet, who is considered the museum's historian, said that the B-57s had been designated for target practice at Aberdeen.

"One of them has a few bullet holes in it, but the other one's in pretty good shape," Mr. Piet said. "The Army told us we could have them, otherwise, they would just bulldoze them away one day."

Plans call for museum members to restore one of the planes. "We'll leave the other one looking pretty rough so maybe it will help convince someone to donate some funds," Mr. DiGennaro said.

The planes, and other aircraft that the museum is seeking, will not be on display until the museum has its own place.

Mr. DiGennaro said that if weather or some other factor cancels the May 27 airlift, another attempt would probably not be made until November because the helicopters need cool temperatures generate the amount of lift needed to carry a heavy load.

"The other alternative is to put them on a truck, but to do that we'd have to take off the wings," he said. "I've looked at the plans and that would be one tough job. I think I'd rather wait until November."

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