2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the museum. We are publishing our history in a series of articles in The Logbook, which is a monthly publication of the Prairie Aviation Museum. We will also be publishing those articles in this area of the website. Please visit these pages from time to time to learn about the beginning, expansion, difficult times, rebirth and future of the museum.
If you have questions or comments about our history articles, please contact Community Outreach Director Mike Sallee.
Prairie Aviation Museum - 30 years in review – The beginning
Aviation has always attracted people and the prospect of restoring a B-25H brought a group of volunteers together in Springfield in 1980. Heritage In Flight was organized to provide funds and labor for the restoration. With members from all around central Illinois, the Heritage in Flight Museum, Inc grew to 260 members by 1982.
On May 9, 1982 an article in the Bloomington Pantagraph written by local organizer, Norm Wingler, inviting local aviation enthusiasts to join a prospective branch of the Springfield organization named the Gooney Bird Chapter of Heritage in Flight. The objective of this Chapter was to acquire a surplus C-47/DC-3 that would become a local restoration project. With confirmed interest of over 30 local residents, the Gooney Bird Chapter was chartered in 1982 and acquired non-for-profit certification. Meetings were held in the Bloomington/Normal Airport terminal Conference room on the second Monday of each month.
By the end of 1982, the local membership was nearing 50 volunteers and was endorsed by Bloomington Normal Airport Manager, Charles Waugh saying “Anything that has to do with the history of flying, basically promoting the industry, I will support 100 per cent!” Member enthusiasm was high! A bi-monthly newsletter, Heritage In Flight Newsletter, shared news of the organization. Each publication contained information on the progress of the Gooney Bird Chapter in Bloomington.
Any developing organization needs funds to operate with and The Gooney Bird Chapter was no different. The first fund raiser was held June 1982 in Clark Aviation’s hanger (now Image Air) and planes and cars were washed. On November 6, 1982, members joined to assemble fresh pizzas for sale to the public. By the end of the day, 977 pizzas had been assembled and sold. This revenue source became the proven fund raiser for many years to follow.
The search for a surplus C-47/DC-3 was quite illusive and sources were investigated from coast to coast. Many of the surplus military aircraft were being placed at military facilities as static displays and not easily acquired by willing buyers.
On October 26, 1983, following a special membership meeting, information about the legal challenges being faced by the Springfield parent organization was presented. It was decided, that to protect the limited assets of the Gooney Bird Chapter, the membership voted to change the articles of incorporation to become the Prairie Aviation Museum, a stand-alone organization.
Prairie Aviation Museum was officially born!