CHAMPAIGN AVIATION MUSEUM’S INNAUGURAL FUNDRAISING GALA!
Combat veterans…volunteers…pilots…guests…friends…contributors. These are just a few of the groups who appreciate the Champaign Aviation Museum and want it to succeed. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a party with all of them…and have an astronaut as a guest speaker? Yes, that would be quite an evening…and that is exactly what happened recently in the museum’s hangar!
On the evening of Saturday April 13, 2013, almost 300 people gathered for the museum’s first gala fundraising dinner. They were there to support the museum’s currently flying airplanes, and its effort to build and fly a B-17G Flying Fortress, Champaign Lady. The evening was, by all accounts, a complete success.
It would be hard to choose the highlight because there were so many. Certainly, we were honored to have twelve veterans from World War II join us. Most of these wonderful gentlemen are frequent visitors to our museum. We see George Snook and Art Kemp every Saturday. Herb Heilbrun, Ed Boggs, Red Ketchum, and the Kulp brothers, Everett, Bill, and Carl are all frequent visitors. James Bell, Charles Chastin, Boots Guey, and Phil Johnson also were there to be celebrated. Indeed, these men are living history and are members of what is rightfully called the Greatest Generation. Upon their introduction, the audience gave them all a well deserved and long lasting standing ovation. They would quickly deflect any praise, however, saying their bravery was nothing more than what millions of others displayed, that they were only doing their duty, and they were the lucky ones-they came home. Yet, their stories reflect the sacrifice, dedication, and heroism of millions of men and women who fought tyranny throughout the war. If not for them…
Across the globe and throughout all the years of war, our veterans made their mark. And these men, who waged war while they were six miles above the earth, on the ground, or on the ocean, shared the evening with a man who would have been able to see the entire scope of the war in 90 minutes. Captain Robert “Hoot” Gibson, the evening’s guest speaker, is a retired NASA astronaut. During his speech, Hoot kept the audience enthralled for almost an hour with his intellect, enthusiasm, and good humor. He shared many highlights from his several careers: Naval Aviator, flying the F-4 Phantom and the F-14 Tomcat; Astronaut, piloting and commanding the space shuttle five times; and Reno Unlimited Class air racing pilot. In itself, that is quite a currciculum vitae…but Hoot did not even mention that he also flew for, and is now retired from, Southwest Airlines. He guided and entertained his audience with an impressive range of imagery depicting the airplanes and shuttles he has flown and some of the sights he has witnessed while orbiting the earth.
One of our veterans, Red Ketchum, was involved in the Casey Jones project, a post-war, photographic survey of northern Africa and the Mediterranean. Some of Hoot’s slides depicted that region of the world. What progress that represents: from six miles up in an American bomber, to 240 miles up in an American Orbiter! The land masses that would have taken Red several weeks to fly over and photograph, Hoot Gibson would have seen drift below the windows of the Orbiters in a few minutes. The experiences of these two men are waypoints along the unending evolution of aviation and the audience was privileged to share the evening with them.
Hoot was very generous with his time throughout the entire day; he flew our B-25, Champaign Gal, earlier on Saturday. And at the conclusion of the evening, after most of the crowd was gone and the sound of metal chairs being folded and stacked filled our hangar, Hoot was still there, talking aviation, laughing, and sharing his time for many, many pictures.
The evening’s official commencement was a second flight of our B-25, at 1800 hours. Champaign Gal was flown by David Shiffer and Eric Kindig, with a couple of guests aboard. Time for socializing followed and dinner was served soon after that. The hangar was filled with music, talk, and laughter throughout the evening. Veterans, volunteers, museum staff, and board members were seated at several tables throughout the hangar and shared their stories with friends, new and old alike.
In addition to all this fun, three people were recognized for their very significant contributions to the museum, one stationary and the other flying! In an endeavor such as this, nothing happens without compressed air. It is the lifeblood of the operation and is absolutely required to operate the drills, air riveters, hydraulic press and so many other tools and devices. To do this, the museum has an Ingersoll-Rand industrial air compressor. Mister Frank Eastman was recognized for being instrumental in arranging the donation of this compressor several years ago. We can thank Frank for every hole we drill and for many other operations!
And this summer, Champaign Gal will have another airplane to fly with! Mister and Mrs. Walter Omiecinski donated a 1942 Stinson to the museum in 2012! This lovely airplane was used as a patrol airplane in the war. It has been undergoing its annual inspection and receiving a little TLC as well. Look for this bright yellow airplane in our hangar--and on the ramp at a few airshows this year!
The audience showed its appreciation for both of these very significant contributions with an enthusiastic ovation.
The evening was a celebration of bravery, exploration, hard work and fellowship. Friends, veterans, volunteers, and guests all gathered to mark what has been accomplished, and to demonstrate their support to move the museum, and its airplanes, closer to their ambitious goals.