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An aviation treasure chest
Beechcraft Heritage Museum offers unique experiences
Visitors have come from Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, China, South America, Central America and, certainly, throughout North America.
They might be in the area on business or vacation; they might deviate their flight plans by more than 200 miles to stop in; or they might be participating in a fly-in. No matter where they come from or how they get there, they leave the Beechcraft Heritage Museum adjacent to the Tullahoma Regional Airport (THA) in Tennessee with a unique history lesson on Beechcraft and early general aviation.
“We attract airplane enthusiasts, and that audience is growing. Many even fly airplanes outside the Beechcraft family."Jody Curtis, Beechcraft Heritage Museum director of marketing and membership
“Anyone interested in airplanes will find it fascinating,” Jody Curtis, Beechcraft Heritage Museum director of marketing and membership, said. “The artifacts, the airplanes themselves, the architecture of our buildings and the campus—it’s truly a world-class facility.”
And that space is often changing with new and expanded exhibits. The museum recently remodeled the Walter Beech Hangar, which includes the first Travel Air plane and the first StaggerWing ever produced. There’s also an extensive photo collection that takes visitors through the Beechcraft factory as it was in the 1920s.
Local, regional and national groups are taking particular notice of the museum’s attractions. Weekly traffic has recently increased markedly, especially among pilot groups looking for places to host fly-ins and students visiting from across the country.
This Beechcraft Duke is now retired and on display at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum. The couple who took delivery of it, the last of the model ever produced, bought it in honor of their 33rd wedding anniversary. The N-number is a nod to the date, April 10.
As interest in the museum grows, so do the buildings themselves. The museum has plans to add more than 18,000 square feet to exhibit space that already spans 60,000 square feet. The new area will allow the organization to more prominently display aircraft models the museum recently received, including the last Duke—a pressurized twin-engine piston aircraft—ever produced and the first King Air A90 to come off the line. Also among the retired fleet of 30-plus aircraft are Twin Beech and Bonanza aircraft in the main collections. In other exhibits there are Twin Bonanza, Baron and Starship aircraft.
“No question the centerpiece of the collection is the first Staggerwing and the first Beechcraft product produced—a Model 17R,” Curtis said. “We have some other really neat machines. Of 20 rare G17S Staggerwings produced, we currently have two in the same hangar right now. One is ours, and one is on loan. I consider the Mystery Ship, Walter Beech’s super-secret racing machine, to be another gem in our collection.”
Museum officials say they’ve received so many aircraft donations in recent years, they’re running out of room to display them, so they’ve made plans to expand the exhibit space. Fundraising for those projects is ongoing.
Beyond the aircraft, there are exhibits showcasing one-of-a-kind artifacts and memorabilia. Company drawings, wind tunnel models, aircraft cutaways, Louise Thaden’s flying trophies (she flew Travel Airs while beating out Amelia Earhart in numerous races), furniture from Olive Ann Beech’s office and much more.
Annual Beech Party
Each October the museum hosts Beech Party, which has in past years attracted Cessna, Fairchild, Luscombe, New Standard, Stearman, Travel Air, Staggerwing, Twin Beech, Bonanza, Baron, T-34 and King Air aircraft to THA.
Attendees have access to professional exhibits and educational seminars from industry-leading companies, respected restorers and knowledgeable technicians. There are also paper airplane contests, a book club, wine tasting and meals prepared by award-winning chefs.
Beechcraft Heritage Museum began as the Staggerwing Museum Foundation in 1973, formed by Staggerwing Club enthusiasts who had a connection to the Tennessee area. Today, it’s a living and working aviation museum that traces the lineage of the Beechcraft family of airplanes. It also has a mission to promote aviation education to youth and adults.
Beechcraft Heritage Museum is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday from March 1 to November 30. It’s open by appointment December through February.
To learn more about Beech Party or the museum, visit the Beechcraft Heritage Museum’s website or Facebook page.