Aviation Museum looking to spread its wingsBy KATHLEEN D. BAILEY
Special to the Union Leader May 10. 2017 9:40PM
LONDONDERRY — Jessica Pappathan, executive director of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, watched as docent Paul Scarlett of Manchester soared and dipped over Southern New Hampshire while operating a flight simulator. “There’s Mount Monadnock, there’s Pawtuckaway,” Scarlett narrated. “There’s Mount Uncanoonuc, see the communication towers?”
“Paul really knows how to run the simulator,” Pappathan said. “I’m learning, but I can never quite manage to land.”
That statement doesn’t apply to the museum, which is reaching out to the community and back in history to give a full picture of aviation in New Hampshire and also inspire children and teens to seek careers in flight. The compact building, itself a piece of history, contains the resources to do both.
Touching the past
On a rainy weekday, Scarlett began his tour with a mural of New Hampshire aviators and what they did. The familiar faces are there, astronaut Alan Shepard of Derry, the first American in space, and Concord’s Christa McAuliffe, who planned to be the first teacher in space. There’s Lt. Robert Fogg, a pilot and lecturer, who flew biplanes over the Rochester Fairgrounds in 1910.
There’s Thaddeus Lowe, who flew even earlier, using a helium balloon to help the Union effort in the Civil War. “He was the first aviator of the Civil War,” Scarlett said.
There’s Carmen Onofrio of Milan, who contracted with the State of New Hampshire to deliver goods to people at the top of Mount Washington. “The runway was only 150 feet wide,” Scarlett said. “He had skis on his airplane. He was contracted to earn $550 for a delivery. One time he crashed, and the skis were ruined. It cost him $500 to replace the skis. He made $50 off that run.”
Manchester’s Bernice Blake, a daughter of the restaurant family, was the first licensed female pilot in the state, Scarlett said.
Touching the future
One of Christa McAuliffe’s most-remembered quotes is, “I touch the future — I teach,” and the Aviation Museum has the next generation in its sights with programs for children and teens. Much of the education goes on in the Vincent DeVino Classroom, a modern space with desks and computers honoring the museum’s first executive director.
The classroom houses one of the museum’s most ambitious programs, an Aviation Education course offered to high school students. The class meets twice a week after school for a full year. Three school districts, Exeter, Londonderry and Manchester, offer full credit for the course, Pappathan said.
While the free course does not include flight instruction, one motivated student took the course two times, and the instructor walked him through the process of getting a pilot’s license, Pappathan said.
“It is the jewel in our crown,” she said.
The staff and volunteers are also interested in catching the imaginations of younger children, and two years ago they launched a school outreach program. It’s a one-hour presentation on the physics of flight, for students in grades K-8, and usually includes something hands-on like a paper airplane workshop. This is also free to the schools, paid for by the museum budget and by grants.
“Wherever we can drive, we’ll go,” Pappathan said.
But they also teach children through story times, usually on their Family First Friday events. And the facility has several kid-friendly components, including a low table where they can design their own airport with movable pieces.
In the hangar
The first building in the complex was a 1937 Art Deco-style building that had been the airport’s second terminal. In 2011, thanks to a major gift from Anne and Eugene Slusser of Hopkinton, an addition was built. The Slusser Learning Center is a hangar-style building where real, full-sized airplanes are exhibited. Both children and adults can climb into a refurbished Embraer 110 cockpit and sit at the controls. “They were going to demolish it, but we approached them,” Pappathan said. “We originally wanted to put a flight simulator inside.” But they stayed true to the mission of attracting children to aviation, and left the technology out. “We wanted children to be able to play in it,” Pappathan said.
The old building is connected to the new by, appropriately, a simulated wind tunnel.
A mannequin representing Thaddeus Lowell hangs from the ceiling in an old-fashioned wicker balloon basket. “Rene Paquin, one of our volunteers, and his wife made the uniform,” Scarlett said, adding, “The level of talent here is amazing.”
The addition allows space for a full-sized biplane built by James Jackson of Brookline. it is the ultimate model airplane, constructed by Jackson over a five-year period, Scarlett said.
As she relaxed in the library, Pappathan said her wish list includes more space. “I would love for us to expand physically,” she said. “We have so many fabulous items we can’t put on display.” They have two full-sized airplanes in hangars in Nashua, because there is no room for them, she said.
But she, her staff and the museum board also want to continue their outreach to the next generation. “We are committed to education, and to doing school programs at no cost,” she said.
And some of that education may be for her, Pappathan admitted. When she came on staff, “everyone was urging me to get a pilot’s license,” she said. She initially resisted. “But I’ve fallen in love with aviation, and now I’m considering it,” she said.
Upcoming events at the Aviation Museum include paper airplane exhibit and workshop this Saturday, May 13; a barbecue and fly-in June 10 at Nashua Jet Aviation; a fly-in and barbecue at its own facility July 8; a car show Aug. 19; an aviation art show some time in the fall; and a gala and auction Sept. 29. Regular hours are Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m., and Monday through Thursday by appointment. Admission is $5, adults, $4, seniors and veterans, $2.50, ages 12 to 15, and free to under 12. The museum is located at 27 Navigator Road. For more information, call 669-4820 or visit www.aviationmuseumofnh.org.