AirFlair: Houston’s New Flight Museum Combines Vintage Planes With Modern Leaning Styles
by Paul Thompson
Unless you live in Houston or follow the Space industry, it’s unlikely that you have heard of Ellington Airport. This historic airport on the south side of Houston has been home to many NASA and military programs over the years including Astronaut flight training, and happens to be the new location of the Lone Star Flight Museum (LSFM), having just relocated from its former coastal home in Galveston.
In August, I was invited by the Museum to ride along as they relocated their fleet from Scholes Airport in Galveston up to Ellington, thirty miles away. The big attraction for me was to fly aboard “Thunder Bird,” which is the most historically accurate Boeing B-17 bomber still flying. It also held a lot of sentimental value for me, because my grandfather was a navigator on a B-17 for 35 successful missions during WWII. Crawling up into the plane, I found myself imagining what it was like to be 18 or 19 years old like many of these men were who trusted this plane and their crew mates to deliver them into battle and home safely. I even sat in the same spot where my grandfather would have sat as we took off. It was a true “bucket list” experience for me, and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity.
What necessitated the move? I spoke to the museum’s CEO, Lieutenant General Douglas Owens (Retired), who told me the museum was severely damaged by flooding from Hurricane Ike, in 2008. The museum’s board agreed that it was time to relocate. Luckily, the museum was able to fly their planes to safety before that storm hit, thanks to volunteer pilots. Owens said the museum received some FEMA money after IKE which helped get the project started, but the rest of it has been privately funded. Ironically, the new museum at Ellington was supposed to open Labor Day weekend this year, but Hurricane Harvey was flooding the city, so it was delayed for two weeks.
Owens said, “The irony of opening our building in the midst of Hurricane Harvey is not lost on any of us. We are the reality of surviving a hurricane and rebuilding and we know that our community will overcome this trial. As we support the region’s recovery, I am moved by the sense of strength and common purpose that rises above and is on full display. We look forward to visitors arriving at our doors and we are proud of the experience they will have in our new facility.”
The new LSFM location is a much bigger and better form of its former self. It now has two massive hangars, which house more than twenty historic planes. Apart from the planes, there’s the Aviation Learning Center, where local school students in grades 5-12 can come and learn about the fundamentals of aviation using a STEM curriculum while instructors tie scientific lessons into it in a fun and meaningful way. “We’ve got a really unique niche here, and we’re looking to maximize that,” said Owens. The two-hour Learning Center curriculum simulates a real ground school where pilots would learn in a classroom environment, followed by a hangar visit, where a real aircraft is waiting for its pre-flight check. Students learn what to look for in case something needs to be fixed on the plane so that it’s safe to take off. They also file a flight plan, which tells the FAA where they plan to go during the course of their flight. Finally, they enter the flight simulator sessions, where they get to virtually fly the route that they planned.
Video link for the Aviation Learning Center https://youtu.be/qTWAsIVv7WM
LSFM is a short drive from NASA Johnson Space Center, and rivals it in terms of historic significance and learning opportunities. I highly recommend making time for both, especially if you or your children have minds geared toward science or aviation.
The Museum also offers rides in several of their historic aircraft, ranging from $250-450. Following my B-17 ride, I was also offered the chance to ride aboard a Boeing PT-17 Stearman, which is a small biplane that was used to train military pilots. Because it has an open cockpit, it was a true “wind in your hair” experience that tops a ride in any convertible on the road.
ADMISSION: Houston Strong “pay what you can”: Saturday September 16 – Sunday, October 1, 2017/Supporting the spirit of Texas and those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Normal Admission: Adult (12 yrs+) $20 Senior (65+ yrs) $16 Youth (4-11 yrs) $16 Child (under 4) FREE/Discount pricing available for active and retired military & National Guard and Reserves
HOURS: Open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
WHERE: Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington Field
11551 Aerospace Avenue
Houston, TX 77034
photos by Paul Thompson
Follow Paul on Twitter @flyingphotog