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Ready for take-off 

by Sheri Boggs

"Spokane is becoming a hotbed of aviation history," says vintage plane restorer Addison Pemberton. And what could cement that trend is a new museum partially devoted to aviation history.

The Fairchild Heritage Museum Society is just lifting off the ground, having successfully met its July 1 deadline to raise $500,000. The fundraising drive had significant ramifications. Not only is the money needed to relocate the museum to a new site at Highway 2 and Rambo Road in Airway Heights, but the purpose of the drive was also to convince the Air Force -- which had already donated $1.5 million in land -- that the community would support a project of such significance.

"We actually didn't get permission to start the project until May 3, so it was literally in seven weeks that we raised that kind of money," says Fred Brown, director of the Fairchild Heritage Museum. He's not one to frequently use the word "amazing," but when it's offered in an interview he laughs and says, "Yes, it is amazing. That's a good word for it."

While there was one $200,000 pledge of support, most of the money came in increments of $50, $500 or $1,000 from individual donors. And that might seem like a flock of paper airplanes in comparison with the flying fortress-sized $30 million ultimately needed to bring the project to its full completion, but for right now it helps facilitate the crucial step of relocation.

"The $3.5 million is what's needed for the actual relocation of the current museum to the new site. The construction design is for phased construction, so we'll spend the next two years filing permits with the county, doing the design work and environmental assessment work, and our objective is to break ground in July of 2003."

The new museum will house current exhibits, such as those devoted to the role of women in the Air Force, how the Air Force found its beginnings in the surveillance hot-air balloons of the Civil War and the origins of local military history with artifacts from Fort George Wright. With its new title, Spokane's Military History Center, the museum will expand to include history and artifacts from all military branches, including two warehouses full of Navy memorabilia currently being stored at the U.S. Naval Reserve building in northwest Spokane.

In fact, Brown says that in the last two or three years, the museum has received a number of offers from people famous in both military and civilian circles who would like to find a permanent home for their memorabilia. Ironically, one of their most significant donations to date comes from not only a local individual, but one who wishes to remain anonymous.

"The collection consists of 18 aircraft and 31 vehicles, all dating from 1911 to 1948. In fact, this collection is considered the third-best of its kind in the nation. It's the kind of thing that people from all over the country are going to come and see."

The donor, while wishing to remain unnamed, was a longtime volunteer at the Fairchild Heritage Museum and has always been interested in keeping his collection within the community.

"My understanding is that the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, as well as the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, have been after it for years," Brown explains. "But for the most part, it tells a story about the history of Spokane, and he doesn't want it moving someplace else. That's been his interest all along."

The current Fairchild Heritage Museum is located at 100 E. Bong St. on the Air Force Base, on Highway 2 past Airway Heights. Call: 244-0244.

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