Airmail museum backers ready for feasibility study

April 11, 2019

Advocates for developing the National Airmail Museum at Fort Wayne’s Smith Field announced Wednesday they have reached a $50,000 fundraising goal to begin a feasibility study.

They said in a news release the study will be performed by ConsultEcon Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in collaboration with Tessellate Studio of New York City.

Three local business leaders : Tom Kelley, president of Kelly Automotive Group; Chuck Surack, CEO of Sweetwater Sound; and Mark Music, owner of Ruoff Home Mortgage : released statements expressing support for the project, which won congressional approval last year although no federal funding.

“I am excited to see this initiative become a reality for the community of Fort Wayne, and the nation, to preserve this important piece of aviation history,” Kelley said. “The National Museum will portray the growth of the early development of commercial aviation to what we experience today and will entice young aviation enthusiasts to pursue a career in aviation.”

Surack and Music said in a joint statement: “The feasibility study is the first big step to test project viability and exploring the sustainability to ensure long-term success of the project.”

The U.S. Postal Service began airmail delivery in 1911, and commercial airmail service came to Smith Field, then known as Paul Baer Municipal Airport, in 1930. Two celebrated pilots from Fort Wayne : Baer and Art Smith, for whom the airfield is named : died in plane crashes while transporting mail.

The museum has been projected to cost $2.5 million to develop and would feature aircraft displays, interactive exhibits, photographs, the headquarters for Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 2, a gift shop and a cafe, according to the group Friends of Smith Field.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, introduced legislation in early 2018 to designate Hangar 2 at Smith Field as the National Airmail Museum, and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and former Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., filed a companion bill. Their measures prohibited the use of federal funds for the museum.

Banks’ measure was approved last year by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump.