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Liberty Aviation adds new hangar

Tom Jackson • Feb 24, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Liberty Aviation Museum has been open for less than two years, but it’s already in the midst of a major expansion.

A large new hangar, about 22,500 square feet, is being built behind the existing museum and hangar building.

It will free up space in the existing hangar, a 120-by-100-foot facility that has become crowded. It’s currently being used to house the museum’s B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber that’s loaned to it by a museum supporter, and the Ford Trimotor being built by volunteers.

The new hangar, being constructed by Janotta & Herner Inc., of Monroeville, was scheduled to be finished in mid-May, but repeated snowstorms have slowed construction.

“We are probably behind a month,” said Jeff Sondles, operations director of the museum.

The hangar will cost a little more than $3 million, said Ed Patrick, CEO of the museum.

Plans call for moving the Ford Trimotor project to the new hangar, Sondles said.

“They are running out of space. They need to join the wings,” Sondles said, pointing out that the wings have taken shape and need to be attached to the plane’s fuselage.

The new hangar also will allow the museum to be a better host when it brings in vintage airplanes, such as the B-17 bomber, the “Yankee Lady,” which has been booked to offer rides several times over the summer at Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport, the museum’s home.

Now, when the bomber comes in from Michigan, it flies back every day so it doesn’t have to sit out in the elements.

“If they know they can stay in the hangar, they might stay two or three days” Patrick said.

Freeing up space in the existing hangar will also allow the museum to add more displays, Sondles said. While the new hangar will be used for storage, it also will welcome visitors.

“People are going to want to come talk to the guys working on the Trimotor” he said.

The hangar is being designed to resemble a World War II aircraft hangar. And next to the hangar, the airport is building a replica air traffic control tower, just like the ones that were used on bomber bases in England during the war, Sondles said.

Meanwhile, the museum continues to acquire new material and work on its existing fleet of vehicles. The museum has acquired two World War II torpedo boats. Work is well along on one of them, which was placed in the water last year, but it still needs an electrical system, a propulsion system and an exhaust system, Patrick said.

“Those things all have to be custom-made,” Patrick said. “The props come out of Italy”

While museum officials hope the boat will be finished this summer, they are reluctant to offer a timetable. Once one of the PT boats is restored to a World War II style, work will proceed on the other boat.

The museum’s replica of a German Panther tank will be getting a new engine.

Maintenance work is currently being done on the B-25 and TBM Avenger bombers. The two are the largest planes launched from U.S. aircraft carriers during World War II, Sondles said.

The museum already has a display devoted to actor Clark Gable, an Ohio native who flew on heavy bombers during World War II, and the museum recently acquired additional items from a collector.

Museum planners are also is in talks to display memorabilia from the National Air Races that were held in Cleveland many times from 1929-49.

The museum opened in July 2012. As it expands, it is seeking help from the community.

Supporters are invited to donate, and they’ll then be recognized in plaques placed inside the new hangar, Patrick said.

The museum also needs volunteers to help with tasks and supplement the small paid staff.

A volunteer executive who has experience in fundraising would be welcomed by the museum, Sondles said.

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