First in Flight, Again


Don Buck has loved planes since he was a kid growing up during WWII. Now he shows other kids the timeline of flight. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Don Buck has loved planes since he was a kid growing up during WWII. Now he shows other kids the timeline of flight. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Hendersonville’s own Western North Carolina Air Museum, the first air museum in the “First in Flight” state, was founded in 1989 to preserve the aviation heritage of North Carolina in general — and of Western North Carolina in particular.

The nonprofit will hold an open house event, “Just Plane Fun,” in early June, featuring airplane rides, museum tours, and an antique car show.

Visitors will be able to get close with a wide variety of aircraft, can pay a small fee for small-plane rides around town, and can also meet and talk to the pilots. The museum collection includes planes of different vintages and sizes, and offers a chronological glimpse into the historical development of aircraft and aviation.

There’s a replica of one of the planes flown by the Wright Brothers, for instance, and examples of warplanes used during WWI and WW2. Do-it-yourselfers will especially appreciate the circa-1928 Heath Parasol kit airplane, which was originally sold to the general public as a mail-order home-assembly project.

Museum President Joseph Lilley, a licensed pilot who’s been involved with many of the museum’s aircraft-restoration projects, observes that one of the biggest revelations for first-time visitors is that many of the old aircraft are made of wood, not metal or fiberglass, and are covered with fabric rather than some high-tech polymer or alloy.

“Examples of the whole processes can be seen in the museum,” Lilley says. “Visitors are often surprised to find that we do aircraft restorations right out in the open, on the museum floor. The work can even be seen as it is happening, and is part of the educational process for our visitors.”

Kids should be sure not to miss “Just Plane Fun,” a rare opportunity to hop aboard an authentic ornithopter and take a ride. Derived from the Greek word for bird, it’s an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings. Designers of these odd-looking machines seek to imitate the flapping-wing flight of birds, bats, and insects.

The machines are of two general types: those with engines, and those powered by the muscles of the pilot.

“Although our ornithopter has failed to obtain flight,” acknowledges Lilley, “it has given pleasure to countless children.”

Club treasurer Don Buck has loved planes since his own childhood spent in Western New York. Buck grew up during World War II and saw and heard the fighter jets made and tested at the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation in Buffalo.

“I was crazy about planes as a kid,” says Buck. When he retired to Hendersonville after a long career at Eastman Kodak in Rochester — including work as an aerial photographer — the local air museum soon piqued his interest.
Buck considers the “tremendous” technical and cultural transformation from the time of manned warplanes to today’s drone-delivered missiles that can “follow you anywhere.”

Through events like “Just Plane Fun,” the museum attempts to connect a rising generation with the mechanics of change.
“It’s a case of the youngsters needing to know their history.”

The “Just Plane Fun” Air Fair and Museum Open House Event happens June 6 and 7, 10am-5pm, with airplane rides, an antique car show, concessions and souvenirs, and free parking and admission.

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