Air Museum Seeks More Plane Restoration Space
Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association hopes to obtain hangar 175 at shuttered Willow Grove air base in Horsham to spread its wings in restoring planes. An official overseeing the site's redevelopment said, 'It's not going to happen.'
As the long-term redevelopment of Willow Grove air base unfolds, the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association is looking for more space: More room to restore planes and more area for public access to artifacts.
In particular, the operators of the Wings of Freedom Museum on Route 611 in Horsham want to obtain hangar 175, described by DVHAA volunteer Mark Hurwitz, as the “biggest hangar and in the best shape” of all remaining at the now-shuttered base.
“It’s close to where we are,” Hurwitz said of the nonprofit group’s existing space, which is still owned by the federal government. “It’s a big area and you could do a lot with that.”
“Could” is the operative word. The Horsham Land Reuse Authority – the entity tasked with locally approving the plan for redevelopment of 862 acres of the 1,100-acre property – last year declined DVHAA’s request for hangar 175.
Keeping the 80,000-square-foot hangar, officials had said, would dominate the development and change its tone. Instead, plans involve demolishing the hangar to make way for a new middle school for Hatboro-Horsham School District.
Now, as federal officials review the plan, DVHAA is hopeful that the hangar can be included with the organization's 13-acre allotment, or in place of some of that space.
“It would be invaluable,” DVHAA President and retired Marine Major Ron Nelson told Patch adding that it would “save us mega millions of dollars.”
Costs aside, Nelson said the organization is looking to move all of its several dozen aircraft under cover. The existing 4,800-square-foot museum does not afford enough space to do that.
“That is critical for us,” Nelson said. “Acid rain is eating them up.”
During a recent tour of DVHAA’s adjacent restoration area, which totals roughly 1 acre, Hurwitz said volunteers spend “10s of thousands of man hours” repairing and restoring planes and thousands of dollars in material costs. DVHAA’s covered restoration area is not included in the current reuse plan, meaning that if the hangar was not granted to the group it would be necessary to build another restoration area, according to Hurwitz.
HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee said the board’s position has not changed since the plan was approved in March.
“We’re not going to move on that issue,” he said.
In terms of the future, McGee said nothing is guaranteed.
“Call me back in 25 years and I’ll know for sure,” McGee said.
The HLRA is attempting to get the ok from the federal government to serve as master developer for the former base property. Doing so would allow a bit of leeway in terms of amending the redevelopment plan, McGee said.
However, the federal government’s eventual transfer of the land is “contingent upon the current redevelopment plan,” McGee said. Any changes would need to be consistent with that parcel’s deemed value, could not affect the environmental impact statement and would need the Navy’s approval, McGee said.
That aside, McGee said keeping the hangar would cause a ripple effect with the remaining development, starting with the planned middle school.
“Everything will change. It’s a domino effect," McGee said. "You move any given line and something else changes and where does it stop?”
One of the chief complaints early on was that the hangar was not attractive and would detract from the rest of the development.
“Everybody in Horsham said ‘that building is ugly.’ I think it’s beautiful,” Nelson said, adding that DVHAA would transform it into a building that the township could be proud of. He said the hangar has the potential for solar, wind and geothermal energy and could become energy neutral.
Nelson said DVHAA has requested access to the hangar, but the HLRA has so far refused.
McGee said touring the inside of the hangar is unnecessary.
“Why jump through these hoops?” McGee asked. “It’s not going to happen.”
Aside from the space that would be allotted via the hangar, DVHAA has made a more immediate request to the federal government to have its fence line extended. Doing so would allow visitor access to several pieces of aircraft currently not available for viewing. It would also allow for more room to roam and for guests to use picnic tables, Hurwitz said.
“We’re going to have to go with the flow,” Hurwitz said of the future.