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Fort Worth Aviation Museum Preserves North Texas Aviation History

By S. Mathur

"What city had three flying training fields (more than any other location) during World War I? What city had the world's only helium production plant and an adjoining US Navy dirigible mooring station? What city had Army Air Forces, Navy, and Marine Corps airfields during World War II? What city had two Navy seaplane bases during World War II? What city was the departure and arrival point for the first non-stop flight around the world?"

The answer to all these questions is Fort Worth. But, says Bill Morris, Director of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, don't feel too bad if you didn't know the answer; neither do most Fort Worth residents.

The mission of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, which is actually a group of aviation museums in North Texas, is to preserve this history and to make the local community aware of its own past in the heritage of aviation. Morris says, "Our primary story is how aviation has changed the culture and economy of Fort Worth and North Texas from farming and ranching to one of the leading aviation and aerospace centers in the world. We see on a daily basis that neither our young people or adult community have much knowledge about the 104 years of aviation history here and the millions of people who have been involved in that heritage and its impact on our community."

FWAM has a collection of aircraft dating back to 1943. All of the aircraft have a connection to the region, says Morris, "Our oldest aircraft is a Vultee BT-13 basic trainer used for pilot training in North Texas during World War II. Our collection policy is based on showcasing aircraft either produced here or flown here. The 24 aircraft in our collection are all relevant to telling the story of Fort Worth and North Texas aviation history." Historic photographs, videos and well-informed volunteer docents bring to life the story of the aircraft and the people who built and flew them.

The history of the airplanes is also the history of the community, says Morris, "There are countless stories about the literally hundreds of thousand people who built them, flew them, or maintained them - families how grew up here because their grandparents moved here in 1942 to build B-24s; military personnel and their families who were stationed here, moved on, then came back when they retired."

There is a regular program of events to bring this heritage to life for residents and visitors. Each year in January, FWAM celebrates the first powered flight in Fort Worth, near the site of the actual historic flight. In May, the "Hops and Props" event hosts aircraft fly-ins, food and drink from local breweries. As well as commemorations of Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, there are reunions, open houses, and other events throughout the year. Every two years, the Memorial Day celebration includes a remembrance service for the British and Canadian airmen stationed at Fort Worth during the First World War.

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