Building up aviation's past

Martin air and space museum expands, looking to house planes inside

October 29, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

Joppatowne resident Gary High is a Navy man, but these days he's working to restore a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk attack plane that's part of the collection at the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum in Middle River.

"I just think there are certain things that deserve to be restored," said High as he stripped glue and paint off the plane's canopy. That plane is of particular interest to him because one like it was on the aircraft carrier where he served from 1956 to 1960. "It's kind of my pet project," he said.

But restoring the museum's dozen or so planes means waging a constant battle against birds and weather.

Museum officials are in the early stages of creating a larger, more consolidated museum, one that will explore all Maryland air and space history and will also sponsor educational programs and have enough room to store the museum's collection of historic planes indoors. A feasibility study is under way, said John Tipton, the museum's communications director.

Meanwhile, the museum, founded in 1990, is spread over several locations at the former site of the Glenn L. Martin factory. Inside one building, a museum traces the history of aviation, particularly as it relates to Martin and Maryland. Down a hall, a room houses archives, including news releases, employee photos and stunning posters from the earliest days of the company.

The airplane collection sits at a third site, called Strawberry Point. A fourth location is now being turned into an educational center, with a separate space for airplane restoration. And a fifth location holds a monthly speaker series. The locations, with the exception of the airfield, are within walking distance of each other.

Admission to the museum is free, and the team of volunteer docents will gladly take visitors to Strawberry Point, said Tipton.

Tipton said several locations are under consideration for a future museum, all on the Martin site. "We don't want to lose that Martin heritage," he said.

Meanwhile, the museum's new education center, currently under construction on Lockheed Martin property adjacent to the airport, will have hands-on educational exhibits that will lure more school groups to the aviation museum and win community support for an expanded plan, he said. "For the first time in the museum's history, we'll have room to run projects," said museum chairman Gilbert Pascal.

Exhibits might include ejection seats, aerial cameras, tabletop and cockpit-based flight simulators and a full-sized replica of a 1920s Martin MS-1 seaplane.

The museum was started by a group of volunteers, including Stan Piet, who is now curator and archivist. Piet said he's not a pilot, but he had a "childhood interest in aviation."

"Martin was one of the pioneers of aviation," he said. "It jelled that we needed to do something to preserve the history."

Glenn Martin was born in 1886 in Iowa and lived in California before moving to Maryland in 1928 and buying 1,260 acres along the Middle River. By 1941, he had created a thriving aircraft business at the Middle River site, with a peak of 53,000 employees in 1943.

The company merged with American-Marietta Corp. to form Martin Marietta in 1961 and switched its focus to space, creating missiles, space hardware, guidance systems, sonar and more. That company merged with Lockheed Aircraft to form Lockheed-Martin in 1995.

In 1975, about 750 acres of the property was sold to the state and became Martin State Airport.

The museum originally focused on Martin - the man and the company - but soon grew to encompass all Maryland aviation and space history, Pascal said.

When visitors walk in, they see a display telling Martin's life history through pictures and captions, including the 1939 Time magazine cover with his picture on it.

The museum also includes hundreds of canisters of film taken by air traffic controllers, as well as posters, models and other items.

The museum gets several thousand visitors a year, Pascal said, and about 30 percent are from out of state. About 25 volunteers serve as museum docents. "We're always looking for more," said Urban Linn, who is in charge of the weekend volunteers.

The archives are among the biggest attractions.

Some of the materials came from the company and some "came from all the pack rats that worked there," said Pascal. And the collection continues to grow. People are always walking in with stories about their years at Martin, he said, and many donate items. "Any of the docents will tell you that the stories that walk in the door are amazing," he said.

Many people come in looking for a photo of themselves or of a relative. Piet recalled a recent visitor who came in looking for a photo of her grandfather, who was a Martin janitor in 1944.

"She walked away with a CD of her grandfather," Piet said. "He apparently had some contact with Glenn Martin on a regular basis. That's the kind of guy Glenn Martin was. He liked to get down there on the factory floor."

The museum is at Martin State Airport, 701 Wilson Point Road. It is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. Call 410-682-6122 or go to www.marylandaviationmuseum.org for more information.

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