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Aviation history comes alive

McChord Air Museum much bigger than it looks

McChord Air Museum curator Raymond Jordan points out interesting items in the B-52 exhibit. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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The McChord Air Museum is much larger than it looks. In addition to the small building which holds the museum, it includes the Heritage Hill Airpark and the Restoration Hanger. Raymond Jordan, McChord Air Museum curator, proudly oversees the collection entrusted to his care.

When driving up to the museum, you see what looks like an air traffic control tower. "The control tower attached to the museum building is the original tower that was built in 1952. It was moved and restored with donations and volunteer help," said Jordan. "While up in the tower, you may hear radio transmissions and they aren't recordings.  We have a live feed from the current tower and you can hear the aircraft communications within the tower." The base of the tower now serves as a gift and hobby shop for the museum.  Upstairs, the cab of the tower has an exhibit of air traffic control equipment and is one of only a few authentic control towers open to the public.  On a clear day, you can see aircraft and get an impressive view of Mount Rainier.

Once you are finished touring the museum, head over to the Heritage Hill Airpark. The airpark sits on a rise known as Heritage Hill and overlooks the McChord Field runway. The aircraft display is dramatic. To get a sense of the aerodynamic design, walk around the planes and underneath, as well. The airplanes are exhibited with a plaque to help you learn more about the individual planes. Many of the aircraft are rare.  The F-106 Delta Dart participated in the United States Air Force's 1959 Speed Record Project. Other aircraft include the A-10A Thunderbolt II, a B-18A Bolo, a C-130E Hercules and many more.

The museum artifacts can also be used to provide support to the military community.  A recent event, Kids Understanding Deployment Operations, hosted by Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Community Service, taught military children about deployments.  Jordan arranged for the children to board the C141B Starlifter at the airpark to simulate deploying on an aircraft, just like one of their parents might do.

The third section of the air museum is the Restoration Hanger.  It is not usually open to the public, but special tours can be arranged by coordinating with Jordan. There is always some type of restoration project taking place.  For those with a passion for aircraft, there are some unique volunteer opportunities available through the McChord Air Museum Foundation. You can join an aircraft restoration crew and help bring an historic aircraft back to its former glory.  There is also a need for aircraft crew chiefs and crew members.  Responsibilities include the general upkeep of aircraft to include small repairs, cleaning and painting.

The McChord Air Museum is open to the public and is free of charge.  Donations are always welcome. If you do not have a federal ID card, you must first obtain a visitor pass at the McChord Field Main Gate Visitor Control Center.  The museum website lists the ID requirements. Passes will only be issued during hours the museum is open.

McChord Air Museum, noon-4 p.m., Wednesday-Friday, 517 Barnes Blvd., on the McChord side of JBLM, 253.982.2485, McChordAirMuseum.org      

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