October 4, 2014, was both glorious and bittersweet. The weather was perfect for flying, and hundreds of people came out to Call Field East to experience aviation history…for the last time. Our WW I flight-certified Jenny took to the skies for the very last time as she flew to her future home in the new Wichita Falls Regional Airport. Over the last year and a half, I have been regularly asked why we are moving the plane and why she will no longer fly. This Note will answer those questions and describe the new exhibit…
Although the Jenny is one of only five authentic Jennys certified for flight by the FAA, the day was coming when we would no longer be able to fly her. Indeed, we felt that at best we had until 2016 to keep her flying. The main issue is the OX-5 engine. A year and a half ago we completed an overhaul of the engine, but there was no need to replace or repair major engine components. That was a good thing given that there’s no such thing as an OX-5 parts store down the street. However, there will come a time sooner rather than later that the story will change, and that change means upkeep and major maintenance on this groundbreaking, near 100-year old engine is about to get extremely expensive. We would reach the point where we would have to have major components custom machined, and that would be a very costly proposition. Consequently, eventually the time would come when the Jenny would be grounded, and at that time we would need to house her in a much better physical environment. Our hangar at Kickapoo Airport was not climate controlled, and making that hangar appropriate for very long term preservation purposes would also be very expensive.
And that’s where the new Wichita Falls Regional Airport enters the picture. The new terminal will be an ideal physical environment for preservation purposes. It will be more structurally sound and sturdy than the hangar at Kickapoo Airport, and it will be a climate-controlled environment. Given that one of our obligations is the truly long term preservation of this rare piece of aviation history, the new Airport is a great choice. The downside to the new Airport is that once the plane goes in, it will not come out ever again. The architect initially included plans for a hangar-type door, but that proposal was rejected, as it really cannot be made part of a terminal building. That raises the question of why we would choose a location for the Jenny that would necessarily result in her being permanently grounded.
Part of the answer is that we would soon reach the point where she would have to be grounded anyway, but there is another consideration. At Kickapoo we were open only one day a week, and in a good year we would have approximately 1000 visitors. At the new Airport, the exhibit will be open 365 days a year, and there is the potential to have as many as 100,000 visitors. Being at the new Airport will enable us to show the Jenny to so many more people, and that will be a huge boost to our mission as a history museum.
Our space in the Wichita Falls Regional Airport also gives us a chance to create a new, expanded exhibit. The name of this exhibit is “Jenny to Jet.” On one side we will have the Jenny, our two Model Ts, and almost everything else that was the hangar at Kickapoo. Right across from that will be an exhibit on Sheppard Air Force Base which will include a T-38 jet. In one place people will be able to see the very first U.S. military aviation trainer AND a modern jet that is used to train military pilots today. Part of what will make Jenny to Jet a one-of-a-kind exhibit is that the Jenny and the T-38 have trained pilots right here in Wichita Falls.
Here is a preview of some of what will be in the Jenny to Jet exhibit. As stated, almost everything in the old Call Field Exhibit will be there (check out the photo albums to see all of that). In addition, two walls on the Call Field side will have murals painted by local artist Kim Ward. As you are facing the Call Field portion, the wall on the right will show the HQ building from Call Field. That mural will wrap seamlessly around to the back wall, which will show the hangars and flight line at Call Field. The left wall will have panels showing the history of the Jenny and Call Field as well as some WW I history. That wall will also include a unit showing two videos on WW I aviation history. The overall effect will make you feel like you actually are standing at Call Field. The centerpiece of the Sheppard side will be the T-38. As you are facing the T-38, the wall to your right will contain panels similar to those on the Call Field side. They will show the history of Sheppard and the 80th FTW and the 82nd TW. There will also be two HD TVs, one of which will show a slide show on the history of Sheppard, and the other will have a cockpit perspective video of a T-38 flight. On the left side will be a mock classroom which will represent the 82nd TW’s mission of training and education. The back wall of the Sheppard side is actually the front wall of the terminal, and it will mostly be a glass wall, meaning the T-38 can be seen from the parking lot. There will be other elements to both sides of Jenny to Jet, and we will let you know about those in the next few weeks.
Jenny to Jet will be great for the Museum of North Texas History, the City of Wichita Falls, and Sheppard Air Force Base. It will show not just our past, but our present and future as well. It gives the Museum a perfect place to preserve the Jenny and the legacy of Call Field and show off all of that. It provides Wichita Falls with a true jewel for the fabulous new Airport (and trust me, it is fabulous) and gives our city another prime tourist attraction. By the way, Jenny to Jet will be in the public access of the terminal, so you won’t have to be an airline passenger to see it. Sheppard will be able to show its proud history of service to our nation and tell people about its mission. So while the Jenny will be grounded slightly earlier than it otherwise would be, Jenny to Jet ensures that she will live on for generations to come, and it will show the world the long, storied aviation and military history of North Texas.
Museum of North Texas History