Visitors In Uniform

view to the left as I sit at the operations desk

From my office desk at AeroKnow Museum, I see them almost as soon as they arrive. After checking in at the lobby desk — with a picture window to the tarmac — to close flight plans and arrange for refueling, flight crews usually walk a short 30 feet or so to either the public area of the lounge where I can view them if my door is wide open, or to the weather radar, phone, and semi-public seating in leather-upholstered chairs or to the private pilots’ lounge adjacent to that. A pilot can put his/her feet up and lean back in a recliner anywhere in that area or lie down on a couch with no worry about being awakened unless an important call comes into the FBO’s (fixed base operator’s) reception desk. The FBO operates the fueling and maintenance facility. The inner rooms out of my line of sight are strictly business; I never go to the weather room except to use the phone, and I never speak unless engaged by someone. The open seating area has two couches, recliner, table of magazines — including Springfield Business Journal (Brant Mackey and Bridget will be glad to know) –, free coffee, sometimes Mel-o-Cream donuts and a water cooler, and when they are in this area, they’re fair game for curious museum directors unless they clearly have eyes closed in “out of service” mode. During the first month of moving in I was happy to encounter these gentlemen (and officers) who had just finished their business checking in and ordering fuel.

first AeroKnow Museum visitors in uniform: F/A-18 pilots, June 11, 2010

There wasn’t a lot to show them at the time. I didn’t have the brochures or even souvenir Abe Lincoln’s Air Force cards to give them, but I showed them around the office, the picture collection, a few old model kits and built plastic models and we talked about their flight. They kindly posed for this picture. When I asked if I could take some pictures of their aircraft, they assented.

Hornets parked in Lincoln Land

I explain to everyone that I’m launching a little museum, and I’d like to share pictures of the crews and aircraft with web visitors who might support AeroKnow Museum. While their names and other particular facts that might be considered confidential information by potential supporters will seldom be shared here, what can be seen and noted by curious visitors standing at the fence will be shared. No one has had any problem sharing their names or military units they serve,  and I include that in my visitor log for future reference.

At first, even though I look like a museum director, my enthusiasm for aviation more closely resembles that of a 14-year-old who just discovered airplanes, and that has been a little off-putting to some. So I’ve put a bridle on my zeal. State Journal-Register columnist knows one of my favorite Vachel Lindsay poems because I recited it for him a few years ago. It’s called “The Bronco That Would Not Be Broken of Dancing.” When I was done reciting it during an interview, he looked me in the eye and said “You’re the bronco.” and I said “You’ve GOT it!” Dave reads this blog regularly and I’m sure understands the “bridle” connection, a necessity when you need to pull an important wagon which I call AeroKnow Museum.

So recently, I’ve let the military come to me, though sometimes I initiate a logical steer in the right direction. Recently I took a 1940 issue of the German aviation magazine Der Adler to two pilots in the public seating. “Gentlemen, I don’t know if either of you read German, but here’s a 1940 propaganda magazine Hitler distributed in the homeland at the height of his invasion west. Just bring it back to me in that office (pointing to my open door 20 feet away) when you’re done.” Thirty minutes later, Brandon Gassey came in, with the magazine and thanked me for sharing it. As we talked I mentioned that I loved taking pictures of visiting aircraft to share with Museum supporters, and he said, “Job, you’re welcome to take pictures of ours if you want.” I declined, saying I had a lot to do that afternoon, but that if he ever came back to the Museum and he saw the light on, please check in because I’d really like to photograph his F/A-18.

So this is the process. Wait for military to come to me before initiating more than a few words of welcoming conversation. Casually mention that I always like photographing visiting aircraft on the tarmac. If the pilot offers, I accept. If not, I thank every one for his/her service to the cause of freedom, give each a souvenir AeroKnow/Abe Lincoln’s Air Force business card and wish them a safe flight. This procedure has been accepted by my generous host.

I also mention it in my brochure and website.

I consider myself the luckiest museum director in the world. Where else can I chat with fighter pilots and teach a little aviation history to intelligent people eager to learn? I’ve also seen a Bell TH-55, Beech T-34C, McDonnell Douglas T-45 and Learjet C-21 (It’s a US Air Force bird.) on the ramp, but circumstances have prevented conversation and photography. That’s okay.

We’re just getting started.

May your skies be CAVU, and may you always return, softly to home.

About Job Conger

I am a freelance aviation, business and tourism writer, poet, songwriter. My journalism appears regularly in Springfield Business Journal and Illinois Times. I am author of Springfield Aviation from Arcadia Publishing and available everywhere. As founder/director of AeroKnow Museum (AKM) and a volunteer with American Aviation Historical Society (AAHS), I created this blog to share news about AKM activity and aviation history.
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