I parted ways with PASM in February 2020 after nine years as a volunteer docent and tour guide. The COVID-19 pandemic struck two weeks later and the museum was closed from March through August 2020. After reopening in September 2020, it operated with a skeleton staff and reduced hours. Volunteer docents, laid off for the pandemic, did not return. Visitors could walk through display hangars and wander around the outdoor aircraft, but there was no one to answer questions, no tram or Boneyard tours, and the restaurant/snack bar was closed.
Above: a BOFORS 40mm antiaircraft gun, newly on display in Hangar 4. Below: a Piper PA-48 Enforcer spotted in the restoration yard. The Enforcer was a 1980s counterinsurgency project: an updated WWII Mustang with a turboprop. It didn’t attract any customers and only two prototypes were ever built.
Four months ago museum staff announced a plan to bring back volunteer docents and tram tour guides, but as of today’s visit that hasn’t happened. Admissions and the gift shop are still minimally manned, there are no docents or tour guides, the restaurant remains closed. I arrived at opening time, 9 AM, and stayed an hour. There were four cars in the parking lot when I got there and about a dozen visitors. By the time I left the number of visitors had doubled. With no more than 24 visitors spread over 80 acres, there was no need to mask up … in fact the signs requesting visitors to mask up and maintain social distancing, posted everywhere during previous visits, have been removed.
Above: this USAF F-5 Freedom Fighter has been on display for many years, but I hadn’t noticed this detail before, the notch in the outboard wing pylon to accommodate the full-span leading edge flap. Extending flaps on the leading and trailing edges of the wings increases their area and camber for additional lift on takeoff and landing.
PASM’s small staff of groundskeepers and janitors were going about their normal rounds today, as they have been since the museum reopened. My guess is they’ve been tasked with the additional duty of keeping an eye on visitors to prevent them from wandering into restricted areas or vandalizing exhibits, something volunteer docents used to do. If you don’t mind being on your own at an air museum with no one there to answer questions about the aircraft on display, this long pandemic continues to be a great time to visit. You’ll have the place almost entirely to yourself.
Below: a former Swiss Air Force Mirage III fighter. It didn’t have the wings on last time I visited. Looks like all it needs now is new paint and it’ll be ready for display.
Below: PASM’s hangar queen, the sole surviving B-52 A model, once a mothership for the rocket-powered X-15 test aircraft, has been off-line for six years, going on seven. I know there’s a lot of work going on, but the only visible progress I see since my last visit is the red and white paint on the right wingtip. If you squint a little, you can see the Piper Enforcer in the foreground.
In my circle of former volunteer docents, the most recent rumor is that the museum’s executive director, the man who dismantled PASM’s volunteer docent and tour guide program … a project he started long before the pandemic struck … has fired the restoration volunteers as well. I asked a friend who used to volunteer in the restoration department to shake his contact tree and ask what’s up. He did. The rumor’s false: restoration volunteers are still at work. I suspected as much. PASM recently posted photos of several different restoration projects on Facebook and Instagram; there’s no way it could do so much highly specialized work without experienced, expert volunteers. Some volunteers, at least those with actual skills, really are essential. Now if only they’ll bring back the docents and tram tour guides.
Above: not new, just photographed from a different angle, the museum’s former Blue Angels Grumman F-11 Tiger. Below: a former USMC F-5E Aggressor aircraft from NAS Fallon. As with the Mirage, it probably just needs a bit of paint and it’ll be ready for display. My restoration yard photos look like spy shots … there’s a lot of junk, spare parts, and aircraft crammed into the yard, and only a few vantage points on the perimeter where one can get a clear view inside.
Sadly, I couldn’t get photos of the WWII Messerschmitt Bf-109 being reassembled in PASM’s Area 51 hangar or the Gloster Meteor in the main restoration hangar. I don’t think my friend John Bezosky, PASM’s collections manager, will mind my sharing his photos of the projects in work, though. That’s some paint job on the Meteor, is it not?
Except for John Bezosky’s shots at the end, photos in this post are mine and available on Flickr (attribution/non-commercial/share alike). You can click here to view a complete album of today’s visit. I get advisories when new exhibits go on display at PASM and will continue to visit and post photoblogs, so watch this space!
© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.