Monday, July 8, 2013

Ready for Take Off! - Hickory Aviation Museum, Hickory NC

Our 2 year old is absolutely obsessed with airplanes. If we're hanging out at home, he wants to watch them take off, fly, and land on Youtube. If we're in the car, he's constantly looking out the window to find them flying in the sky. He even carries his little toy airplane around the house, flying it and making sounds for it. So, when a friend posted that she had taken her little boy to actually fly in an airplane at a nearby airport, I knew we had to go...

Nestled in a little section of Hickory, NC lies a gem...a diamond in the the Hickory Regional Airport. Yes, an airport!

      "The Hickory Regional Airport is the 
     aviation leader in Western North Carolina...
     a general aviation airport...not currently 
     served by a commercial airline."

We had first planned to visit the airport when we were told that they allow children (ages 8-17) to fly (weather permitting) in an airplane on the first Saturday of each month. However, Lalo is only 5 years old and Bubby is only 2 years old, so we knew they wouldn't be able to actually fly in an airplane, but we were positive that they would love being able to watch them take off, fly and land. So, I looked up the Hickory Regional Airport and gave them a call to make sure our presence would be ok. But, after calling, I was told that the children actually fly under the Young Eagles program of the EAA Chapter 731 of Hickory, NC. The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) is not just a company local to Hickory, NC; it is actually a nation-wide company with Chapters all over...

EAA is a growing and diverse organization of members with a wide range of aviation 
interests and backgrounds. EAA was founded in 1953 by a group of individuals in 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who were interested in building their own airplanes. Through the 
decades, the organization expanded its mission to include antiques, classics, warbirds, 
aerobatic aircraft, ultralights, helicopters, and contemporary manufactured aircraft.

Upon calling the EAA of Hickory, NC, the gentleman who answered informed me that they would be glad to have us come watch the airplanes take off, fly and land even though our children are too young to ride. But, if you do have a child within the ages of 8 and 17, the flights are completely FREE! EAA members actually volunteer and donate flights for area children. The gentleman also mentioned that there is a small Hickory Aviation Museum, of which is also FREE, on site at the airport. Given that Phillip's grandfather was in the United States Air Force, I knew this would be a plus, but I didn't know how big of a plus!

When we arrived, it didn't look like the standard commercial airport, because it isn't a standard commercial airport. There didn't seem to be much to it...a small parking lot (of which was really packed with vehicles), a small control tower, a small runway, a fire station area, a place for storing small aircraft, and a tiny terminal building. I'll be honest...I did not fully understand the value of the contents of this place when we first pulled in, but I knew that simply seeing those airplanes take off and land would be the world to Bubby, so it didn't matter regardless.

Given that the FREE parking lot is pretty much right next to the runway, meaning not much of a walking distance, before we even got into the terminal building, Bubby was screaming "air pane, air pane". As we walked into the terminal building, there was a "check in" desk directly in front of the doors. There appeared to be no attendant on duty, but it wasn't hard to find where we needed to be because we had an open view of a large room with tables and chairs full of seated people off to the left. (Also, right next to the Crosswind Cafe, which we didn't visit.) The room had a door that led directly out to the "loading area" or runway. A very happy and cheerful man stopped us at the door to ask if we wanted to fly. We told him that our children were too young and we just wanted to watch. He led us out onto a little "patio" type area (on a cemented pathway and under an overhang of the building) and instructed us to just stay on the cemented pathway. There were probably only 10-15 other families there awaiting their turns for take off. The airplane that we saw was small and appeared to carry four passengers. There appeared to be two to three different planes loading up with children, driving towards the left to line up at the runway, waiting for the "go" signal, and then taking off! The kids got so anxious waiting for the airplanes to get moving, but once that first airplane took off, they were both in awe! Bubby just stared with mouth wide!

Because it took the airplanes a little while to come back, I don't think we actually ever saw one Bubby saw a roped off lot full of parked airplanes over in the museum area and he was aching to go, pointing and saying "air pane, air pane"! So, we headed back through the airport, back by the front desk, and towards the museum area.

Right outside the "entrance" to the museum section, there is a small area with some detached airplane parts including a propeller, a Turbofan (of which you can see the inside), and some seats. The kids enjoyed getting to sit in the seats like they were really riding in an airplane. Upon entering the main indoor part of the museum, we were greeted by a distinguished gentleman with a nice smile and a cane. He followed and entertained us throughout our tour of the museum space, of which is one small room divided by partitions. He told us about some men who lost their lives in wars, showed us the plane tail that they couldn't move out of the museum because it's too heavy, and even mentioned how he wished he could have been more of a part of the history laid out in front of us. His passion for all that the museum entailed was so evident. I don't know the affilation between the EAA and the actual museum, thus I don't know if the man is an EAA member, but something I read later on the EAA website reminded me of him...

"EAA members are what we like to call the "keepers of the flame." Sure, we love airplanes.
We fly them. We fix them. We even build them. But it goes beyond that. It's about passion, camaraderie, that ol' can-do spirit, and a grassroots way of sharing our love of aviation
with others. Whatever it takes to stand in the footsteps of Orville and Wilbur ...
if only for a moment."

As we continued on, we saw remnants of memorabilia in glass cases, pilot suits (one of which was even donated from a Russian pilot), and even a couple of airplane seats equipped with "eject systems". There were also some tiny replicas of airplanes, including one from the Wright Brothers and another with the old "under the plane" eject system, hanging on the ceiling. The space was very, very small, but had so much fascinating information and many items available for viewing.

However, despite the fact that most of the items were properly displayed in glass cases, out of the reach of little fingers, Phillip opted to carry Bubby throughout the indoor part of the museum...just as a precaution. I do believe there was enough room between the partitions for a small 1-seat stroller, but we had decided to not take it in, because we knew Bubby would want to wonder around eventually. Once we rounded the end of the museum area, Bubby could once again see the airplanes resting in a lot outside. As he commenced once more with the "air pane, air pane", we knew we would have to head outside. So, we thanked the gentleman for his time, exited the terminal building, walked down the sloped ramp (stroller friendly) and went out into the roped off area with airplanes.

Before our very eyes were F-5E Tiger, F-105B Thunderchief, FJ-3M (F-1C) Fury, F-4B Phantom II, LTV A-7A Corsair II, F-14D Tomcat (the Last "Cat" Standing), and FedEx airplanes. I do not personally know anything about airplanes, so those names don't mean much to me; but it was very neat to see real Air Force touch them, walk under them, see them up close, peer down the empty holes from where the engines used to be, and even climb stairs to look down into one cockpit.

We were also allowed to enter the FedEx
plane and climb into the pilot seats (Lalo's favorite part). They even made the inside as real as possible, with flashlights and everything in their places in the cockpit. And, I honestly could not determine who was more 2 year old son or my husband! LOL! It was like watching two children let loose in a candy store!

A young man came outside to talk with us briefly about some of the details of the airplanes, then we headed back inside to check out a small Naval Aviation section on the other side of the airport.

There, we saw a M61A1 Vulcan 20mm Cannon that can put out 6,000 rounds per minute! There were also a few miniature displays of naval aircraft carriers that had incredible detail.

At the end of our fun, I would conclude that it was just that....FUN! Such a small place, yes, but so much to see if you take the time...see the history, hear the history, touch the history, and even throw the kids in a plane...LOL!

NOTE: The Hickory Aviation Museum does not require a fee for entry nor does the EAA require a fee for flights, but please consider giving a donation if you are willing and able!

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1 comment:

  1. My kids would love the museum part of this airport! Our local private airport also participates in the Young Eagles free flights, but only once a year. :)