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 unfolds, the is looking for more space: More room to 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 , 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 for redevelopment of 862 acres of the 1,100-acre property – last year 

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 .

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 . 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. 

Phil Spare August 28, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Is it Director McGee, or King?
Mike Shortall Sr August 28, 2012 at 01:31 PM
In principle, I don't have a problem with the museum acquiring the hangar. Yet, from the point of redevelopment, that hangar is a negative feature. It is functional, not asthetic are as most buildings constructed for military-type use. My understanding also is that the hanger is not heated, or weather/moisture proof, which would be a real problem for anyone wanting to store exhibit pieces. Wouldn't the DVHAA still have preservation issues, given the building's poor insulation, that would cost it a lot of money to fix? I can see the HLRA's point in not allowing any changes that push the redevelopment plan back any further. And I certainly understand the museum's interest in such a large hangar. Until the hangar is actually torn down, I imagine there's plenty of time to figure out the BEST solution once the FedGov passes possession on to the Township. But that could be years away yet. And from what I understand about the BRAC process, no one can use any of the buildings or facilities until the FedGov finishes its convoluted evaluation and passes (or doesn't pass) the airbase on to the HLRA for redevelopment. My concern would be that byu the time the FedGov finishes its work, none of the buildings or facilities there will be in useable condition.
Steve Czerviski August 28, 2012 at 03:14 PM
It's funny how all the buildings, hangers, etc. were good enough for the military to use for all those years but, now they are no good. Trust me, they weren't perfect when the military occupied them. Plus, putting a middle school on a superfund site !!?? Really? ALOT of places on that property WILL NEVER truely be "cleaned up". Funny how the township can get things approved when they want to.
Robert Applegarth August 28, 2012 at 03:32 PM
I agree with Shortall's response to the DVHAA's use of Hanger 175 for their aircraft. I think the hanger could be remodeled to fit in with any redevelopment. Of all the schools I have seen and attended, their design is rather boxy and unattractive; not unlike a hanger. So how is that basic design going to fit into any planned development? McGee should get off his arrogant, my way only butt and try to work with the DVHAA and come to some kind of compromise which would benefit everyone concerned. This is just another case of government ignoring the people and doing what they want. The museum will benefit not just the local area, but it will bring people from other areas which in turn can bring additional revenues to local businesses. I guess the real problem comes down to how much TAX REVENUE will be generated from redevelopment. They will have to pay for that new school somehow...Oh well, government at its best.
Robert Applegarth August 28, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Wouldn't Almighty Supreme Ruler be more accurate? It appears he has more POWER than the Board he works for and the Township Council combined.
Mike Shortall Sr August 28, 2012 at 06:24 PM
The problem is that the BRAC decision to close the base was made in 2005. Ever since then, as the Navy and other tenants began moving out, the no-longer-needed buildings were gutted of fixtures and simply shuutered. There was no investment made by the DOD (My understanding is that they were not permitted to spend additional money to keep unneeded buildings in "useable condition".) to preserve the buildings for future use. Roofs have been allowed to leak. Cold and hot weather cycles have come and gone, and the bulidings have suffered. This has been going on for YEARS already. So almost all those buildings will be useless once the base is handed over to the HLRA. And it's even worse, I would think, for the hangar which had no insulation even when it was in full military use. BTW, Steve, they won't be building the new school anywhere near any of the identified superfund sites.
william c. hewish III August 28, 2012 at 08:21 PM
To Major general Ron Nelson ; I am a member of legion post 308 my name is Bill Hewish .Its been a long time since we've met, but i've always respected you.I think this Mike Mcgee is not only arogent but somehow I think has an personal interest in making sure he gets what he wants like not liking anything to do with the military. Good luck General you have my support
Robert Applegarth August 29, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I am a life member of the Marine Corps League, life member of Amvets, Post 136 and a Post Member of American Legion Post 662. From 1966 to 1971 I was stationed at NAS Willow Grove and served in various positions with Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-511. I have to agree with you that McGee has his own selfish, self-serving objectives with this entire situation. I would also agree that he has absolutely no military background. Maybe he forgot why he is able to short change any thing military. Because of our military, he is able to act as he does while also speaking in the English language. Based upon his extreme negativity concerning the military, the DVHAA and what they are trying to accomplish, he needs someone in authority to advise him of his total lack of irresponsible attitude towards both.
Liberty 1 August 29, 2012 at 01:43 AM
I would like to see DVHAA get the hanger. Renovations could be made and the museum provides a good historical site that will draw people to the area. Some of the good restaurants in the area (Grandma's Grotto to mention one of the several) would benefit. I do not know Mr. McGee and would not call him any names but I wonder if he knows how much of an arrogant,pompous ass he sounds like? I would suggest that he rethinks how he expresses himself to the media in the future.
Mike Shortall Sr August 29, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Robert: Thanks for your service ... But to be frank, there's nothing Mr. McGee said that could be construed as "anti-military". Having a strong opinion about an aircraft hangar and allowing another delay in the HLRA BRAC submission isn't quite the same as being anti-military.
Robert Applegarth August 29, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Thank you Mr. Shortall. Have you spoken to anyone associated with DVHAA about the road blocks and negative actions and responses from Mr. McGee? He is not a supporter of them or their mission to keep restored military aircraft for the public to see and hopefully connect with in the sense that those aircraft played an important role in the freedoms we enjoy today. That museum was in operation while I was serving at NAS Willow Grove and I would go there on my lunch break to look at the planes on display at that time and appreciate the sacrifices our service men made while they flew those machines for our protection and well being. Currently, one of the F8's being restored is one of the aircraft I helped arm with ordnance so our pilots could ready themselves to protect our Nation in protective/defensive tactics should the need arise. It is my understanding that the only non-military aircraft will be the Pitcairn Mailwing: a plane which was built at the then Pitcairn Field. Mr. McGee has done nothing but to put up roadblock after roadblock for anything the DVHAA has tried or requested. With 99.9% of the aircraft at the Museum of military vintage, and McGee stopping all requests by the DVHAA, that to me, suggests he is anti-military and especially he is anti-military aviation. It also appears that he has an anti-aviation attitude in general. I am not alone with this opinion. If that is the case, he should be ashamed of himself.
Mike Shortall Sr August 29, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Sorry you feel that way. But - in my opinion - you are taking an unnecessarily personal view of a decision that was already part of the rather extensive HLRA process. At meetings I attended, I was of the opinion that the HLRA worked very closely with the DVHAA museum to ensure that it stayed put as a permanent and larger part of the redevelopment plan. The museum - in my opinion - has done pretty well in the BRAC process. Yet they keep asking for more. First it was allowing the Pitcairn Mailwing land, and now they want to revisit the hangar issue. Not sure why they think they should receive special treatment over all the other submissions that went through the HLRA process.
Robert Applegarth August 29, 2012 at 04:56 AM
For Mike Shortall; I appreciate your feed back, but I feel Mr. McGee has a very negative attitude regarding DVHAA. Maybe the Board itself has a more positive attitude but they are not the ones being quoted in the news releases. Maybe it is time for the Board to respond and let Mr. McGee keep quite. Also, my take on the entire situation is maybe one sided, but when so much negativity is coming from one individual, I tend to react to their negativity. You apparently have far more insight concerning the entire situation than I,but, I am not the only one who feels that Mr. McGee is a very pompous, arrogant individual. If he in fact has served his Country, I will be the first to thank him.
Brad August 29, 2012 at 06:19 PM
First the township wants no runway, now they want to take away land that will help to preserve their own history. There were hangars and an airfield in that location before 99 % of the population was even born. It's time for people to stop being so ignorant of the history of the location. There are enough schools and shopping centers nearby. There is, and only ever will be one NAS Willow Grove.
Mike Shortall Sr August 29, 2012 at 07:33 PM
a) The Township did nothing to shutter NAS Willow Grove. The DOD and Congress decided to close it down. b) The HLRA has INCREASED the land available to the DVHAA museum. They simply disagree that the hangar is necessary or fits the redevelopment vision. c) DVHAA had their opportunity to maximize their benefit from the base closure through the HLRA process. They got more, just not everything they wanted as happens so often in life. To reopen the redeveloment plan, which will already take YEARS to meander through the Federal evaluation process, just to benefit the museum would prejudice every other conveyance request that went through the HLRA process.
Robert Applegarth August 29, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Brad, It appears you have hit the nail on the head. I was discussing your very comments this morning with some friends. People move into a neighborhood knowing full-well that there is an operational entity such as the NAS at Willow Grove and for whatever reason, they want to close it or have it moved or completely destroyed because it bothers them and their lifestyle. They never gave it a thought when they moved into the area, and now they only want to get rid of the problem with complete disregard for saving what was once a vital component to the Nation's well being. I'll bet that most area residents don't know the based was home to the Neptune P2V which was a patrol aircraft used by the Navy to detect threats from submarine warfare off the Eastern coast of America in the sixties and seventies. And yes, they did find what they were looking for on those missions. But that's okay folks, when the Navy relinquishes final control of the base, and its history, it is my feeling that the DVHAA will have one heck of a time maintaining their status.
Mike Shortall Sr August 29, 2012 at 09:15 PM
I don't understand the obtuseness here. What exactly did Horsham Township do to "close, move or destroy" the airbase? That decision was made by the FedGov with no input from the community. They decided that "the nation" no longer needed it, not Horsham. I know a lot of my neighbors (I live about 1/2 mile north of the runway.) never had a problem with the airbase when it was there. I - for one - LOVED the airshows, traffic nightmares and all. Then again, I'm a Navy employee working on aviation support, so I could relate. Now if it's the public commercial airport proposal you're talking about, that's another animal altogether. I won't bore you will all my objections to that initiative.
Steve Czerviski August 29, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Well said Brad, Mr. Applegarth. Mr. McGee hates the military in Horsham, FACT! I myself, am a veteran and, worked at Willow Grove for 17 1/2 years, from May 94 to Sep. 2011, as a weapons loader on the A-10 for the 111th FW. When our unit was put on the BRAC list alot of people associated with our unit and family support group did whatever they could to try and save our unit. There were countless meeting with the township and others. We would be briefed on our "status" after those meetings. . The one thing that really stuck with me from all those briefings was the fact that Mr. Mcgee said " we love our military but, we will be glad when they're gone ". I consider that a slap in the face of all who served at Willow Grove. He has wanted the base closed for years and now he has his wish. I personally know people who are associated with the DVHAA and, I hear their stories about the roadblocks and negative actions that Mr. Applegarth brings up. Our history makes us who we are, a proud nation. Apparently Mr. McGee never served ( if he did he is a disgrace to the service) nor does he care about history here at Willow Grove. He is just a typical politician, all about the money and self gain. Horsham is not responsible for closing the base but, they certainly didn't want it in their backyard anymore either.
Bob August 29, 2012 at 10:07 PM
A hanger is ugly, but unused office space isn't. Horsham could hire 5 employees for a Horsham Beautification Authority" run by a Horsham Beautiful Tzar/Tzarina. The salary could start at $250,000 a year.
Gregory Marston August 30, 2012 at 01:04 AM
The reason that the flying military units left the base after the 2005 decision was because of the loud protests from people in Horsham who were given continual false information concerning options at the base. The stories about FEDEX, UPS, Southwest Airlines [coming to Willow Grove] and the current ridiculous theory of Philadelphia airport "weather overflow" had not a shred of truth and were made up to frighten the homeowners. END of PART I. Col Marston The military movement of 5,000 personnel to New Jersey ended up costing three to four times what ever was going to be saved by BRAC [$200 mill over 20 years). Every single flying unit that went to McGuire AFB, NJ had to have brand new buildings and hangars built for them. Oh yeah, and also they had to buy the land and extend the runway by 2000'. That's the dirty little secret of BRAC and Horsham. Do you think the USMC was happy to spend $300 million to move the MAG 49 Helicopter unit to New Jersey? But the screaming residents were hoodwinked, which is why the PA Governor dropped his support for the runway. 99.9% of the towns in America would have loved to have the job-creating giant that this base could have been. In 2006 there were 31 OGA (Other Government Agencies), Federal Agencies, FEMA, aircraft restoration companies, vaccine producers that wanted to come to WG. One stipulation - the runway had to be left open. How do I know this? Because I talked to the two state reps who were fielding the
Robert Applegarth August 30, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Mr. Czerviski, Thank you for your service and continued employment at NAS Willow Grove. Also, thank you for your insight into what Mr. McGee is all about. As Mr. Shortall commented, the Township did absolutely nothing to cause the closing of the Base. Yes, I believe you are correct. They ALSO, did nothing to prevent it either from what I am learning. At the time, U.S. Senator Arlene Spector was working to keep the base open, but without community support, he was fighting a losing battle. The DVHAA won't push to hard because they are concerned that Mr. McGee will punish them in some manner. Is that anyway to operate? Afraid that you might be punished because someone doesn't like what you are doing or stand for? Is this really the American way? These folks are trying to save some military history for everyone to enjoy, but instead of support and real cooperation, they, in my opinion, are being given lip service until the Navy is gone for good. What I like to say to those people who don't or won't stand behind and support our Military, Past, Current and Future...Please feel free to stand in front of us while we defend this Nation with everything we can...Please.
Robert Applegarth August 30, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Thank you Colonel. Not to be presumptive, Semper FI. No Sir, I am sure the Corps was not happy to move MAG 49 to McGuire. I am also sure the Marines attached to the Unit were not happy either. As you might be aware, my Squadron, Marine Fighter Squadron VMF 511, was deactivated in 1972 with the ending of the Vietnam War. Again more cost cutting from DOD no doubt. It seems to me that the Township was more concerned with how much tax revenue could be generated with redevelopment of the property rather than keeping a non-revenue entity on the books. Imagine the $$$ signs the Business Manager saw with that possibility in front of him. What a feather in his cap if he could deliver such a large partial of land to the Township for their coffers. It wouldn't take much to convince BRAC that the base had served its purpose was not wanted in the Township any longer. I could be wrong, but wasn't Mr. McGee the Township Business Manager at the time? Just my thoughts on the subject.
Mike Shortall Sr August 30, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Is Part 1 deliberately misleading? "Loud protests by the people of Horsham" had nothing to do with the military leaving the JRB. It was a BRAC decision, the DOD, Congress, The President ... the whole nine yards. Hard to believe that anyone who is even remotely familiar with the way the JRB BRAC process worked could characterize it that way.
Bucks-Mont Steve August 31, 2012 at 11:34 AM
I think the best solution to the problem is to simply switch the land tracts that have been proposed for the school and the museum. If the museum wants the hangar and the the responsibility of fixing it up to make it more climate friendly then they should get it. Again, it would be the museum's responsibility to maintain the hangar, not Horsham's. That's the beautiful thing about concept maps and drawings....all you need is some white out or an eraser to make the changes needed. I've always thought the hangar would be an ideal place to have the museum. Certain planes need protection and proper restoration because they are one of a kind. If they aren't cared for properly...we'll lose them to some other museum. My biggest concern for this whole reuse operation was that the base (which will always be Willow Grove in my mind) will be all but forgotten years down the road. No evidence that it was ever there. Just like what happened in Warminster to Johnsville. All but blotted away from the landscape and history. I'm sure they will not give the new roads and streets in the redevelopment names left over from the base. Keeping the hangar would change that and keep something from the base there as a reminder of what that area was and what happened there.


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