The Aviation Museum of Kentucky at the Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, has preserved the aviation history of Kentucky for 25 years. Incorporated in April 1995 and opened to the public in August of that year through the efforts of Wendell Murphy and Dr. George Gumbert, it includes 12,000 square feet of exhibit space, a library, and an aircraft restoration and repair shop.
The two men from Lexington loved flying and flying machines. Murphy liked to make them run well. He was an airplane mechanic well before the landing fields around Lexington had paved runways. It was reported that Murphy, dealing with a vision impairment, found a way to memorize an eye test chart. That put him into the military and the use of his skills to “keep them flying” during World War II.
Gumbert, son of an Eastern Kentucky University professor, was one for being at the controls. His love of flying brought him to marry a former stewardess and later take her and their family on airborne adventures. It’s not everyone who loads up the wife and kids and flies off from Lexington to pre-Castro Cuba, but he did.
Prior to the museum opening in 1995, there was the Kentucky Aviation Roundtable. Starting in 1978, the roundtable was a discussion group about flying and recognizing the wealth of Kentucky aviation history. Murphy and Gumbert were there, along with a motivated group who excelled in knowledge and tales of aerial achievement. It was organized “hangar flying,” where there were no take-offs, truth was subject to stretching and it was not bragging if you had flown it.
A strictly serious element was present too: to preserve the aviation history of Kentucky. Accomplishments of flyers from around the state not only displayed the spirit of Kentucky but were proportionally outsized to the aerial records of other states. It was cleared for launch in April 1995, when the Aviation Museum of Kentucky opened its doors at Hangar Drive on Blue Grass Airport. The grand opening included one of the most prominent events in military aviation history: the reunion of the surviving crew members of the April 1942 Doolittle Raid on the Japanese home islands. All volunteers, for what seemed a near-suicidal mission, the men gathered and then left behind a unique memento: autographs on the rudder from a B-25 Mitchell bomber, the type of aircraft they had depended upon so desperately. The rudder and other artifacts from the mission remain on display in the museum today.
The Kentucky Aviation Museum’s many visitors through the years include the pilot in command of the first atomic bomb mission, the test pilot who coolly faced death at several times the speed of sound and a U.S. Air Force officer who was confined in the notorious Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.
The Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame, established in 1996, recognize native Kentuckians, and includes such people as a general from Barren County who led the Strategic Air Command, a Hardin County sergeant who flew the Doolittle Raid, the Christian County native who served as one of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Letcher County woman who used her skills as a scientist to develop the Patriot Missile System. Other notables include Abram Bowman, the founder of Bowman Field in Louisville; and Francis Gary Powers from Letcher County, who was shot down over the Soviet Union in a U-2 spy plane and then later released, recounted in the film Bridge of Spies.
One of the museum’s most significant achievements is the Aviation Summer Camp education program. More than 6,000 young people have learned about aviation and aeronautics and challenges for the future, recognizing shortages of pilots, aviation mechanics and aerospace professionals.
An element of each camp session is a flight with a licensed instructor, under standards where campers can enter the time aloft in their flight log books. That exciting first entry has led alumni of Aviation Summer Camp to aerospace engineering degrees, Air Force and military careers as well as pilots for airliners.
Throughout 2020, the museum will host special events to celebrate 25 years. On June 6–7 (date subject to change), an aircraft that participated in the June 6, 1944, airborne operation during the invasion of France (D-Day) is scheduled to be at the Aviation Museum. The aircraft, known as a C-47, is the military version of the DC-3, an early all-metal airliner that started profitable airline service in the U.S.
For more information
Aviation Museum of Kentucky
4029 Airport Road
Lexington, KY 40510
Check website or Facebook page for hours, cost and events.
Marty Schadler, Aviation Museum of Kentucky Board Member