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Horsham Air Museum Blends History, Education

The volunteer-run Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum in Horsham is working to boost its educational offerings to the public.

Once the fence around the sprawling 1,100-acre former Willow Grove air base come down to make way for , future generations may not know its history as a military base, or an airfield.

“Fifty years from now, no one’s going to know that Willow Grove base existed,” said Heather Salazar, curator of the volunteer-run Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum.

That is unless Salazar and the dozens of other volunteers at DVHAA's museum have a say. Salazar, of Willow Grove, who holds a master's degree in military history, joined the museum last July. 

Since then, she has strived to help “make sure history stays alive in the public’s eye.”

Salazar, along with DVHAA, is working on several fronts to expand the educational offerings available through the history of the museum's aircraft, artifacts and extensive library collection.

Within the next few months, Salazar hopes to have a formal educational program in place to train the museum's roughly 30 docents on how best to approach and engage the museum's 1,000 monthly visitors, and, perhaps most importantly for Salazar, how to “tell the story of the aircraft.”

“There’s a story for every one," she said, adding that visitors might like to know how DVHAA came to possess the plane, its history and other specifications of the various models 

DVHAA President John Rehfuss said the 12-year-old museum at one time had a docent training program in place, "but that went away a little bit."

Rehfuss said that's about to change though. 

This weekend, for instance, Mike Posey, a lead aircraft restorer for the museum's latest acquisition - a rare Harold F. Pitcairn PA-8 Mailwing - will offer a talk about his work with the plane. The 9 a.m. event on Saturday is open to the public and Boy Scout Troops in Bucks and Montgomery counties have been invited, according to DVHAA Spokeswoman Sherri Jones. For the museum's docents, Rehfuss said the discussion is mandatory.

"We’re committed to the educational aspect," Rehfuss said. 

In conjunction with expanding the learning of the museum's docents - and in turn teaching the general public little-known aviation history and facts - Salazar said she is looking to build educational activities for kids to do during visits with parents or school.

"These activities will help teach children about aviation, along with history and give them a more interactive learning experience at the museum," Salazar said. "They will also meet social studies standards set by the state required for children to know at certain grade levels."

Also at play are plans to find a home for DVHAA's 10,000-volume library, which includes donated books from the late 1800s and maintenance manuals for “almost every aircraft that flew out of Willow Grove,” according to Rehfuss. 

Prior to the base's closure in September 2011, Rehfuss said DVHAA had its expansive aviation history in building two behind headquarters. The general public could come in and use the site as a research library, but Rehfuss said DVHAA had to vacate the property when the base closed. 

The books have since been moved to storage and Rehfuss said DVHAA is working with the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority and Navy officials on "finding a solution."

Looking ahead, Rehfuss said he would like to one day have a full-time museum curator as a paid staff member. 

Retired Major General Ron Nelson, DVHAA's chairman of the board, echoed Rehfuss' sentiments.

“If we’re going to grow at all, we’ve got to have a permanent staff,” Nelson said.

In the meantime, Salazar, who volunteers on weekends, is dedicating time to changing up and rotating displays in one to two areas throughout the museum at any given time. 

As part of that effort, Salazar uses DVHAA's Facebook page to highlight an "artifact of the month" to help give prospective visitors "a flavor for what we have." 

“My biggest thing is getting the word out there," Salazar said. “People think history can be so boring, but you can walk in here and see things not seen elsewhere.”

Nancy J Ferguson March 02, 2013 at 04:48 PM
They are doing a great service, but why where only Boy Scouts invited - what about Girl Scouts? They don't just sell cookies you know

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