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On display: Cullman Regional Airport hosts Alabama aviation history exhibit

Visitors can walk through the exhibit and sit in airplane seats to enjoy an interactive video presentation on the history of aviation in Alabama. (W.C. Mann for The Tribune)

VINEMONT - Alabama’s rich history includes its own chapter in the story of aviation, from experiments with gliders that predated the Wright brothers, to the Wrights’ own decision to open a school here, to military training centers for both world wars and beyond, all the way to space.  For the next two weeks, as part of the Alabama 200 Bicentennial celebration, Cullman Regional Airport will host a traveling exhibit which celebrates that heritage by offering visitors a sampler of Alabama aviation history.

Airbus, which operates an aircraft manufacturing facility in Mobile, sponsored the exhibit, in partnership with the Alabama Community College System and Alabama Humanities Foundation.  The exhibit came to Cullman with the help of Wallace State Community College.

Cullman Regional Airport Manager Ben Harrison shared, “It’s just a pretty neat little exhibit talking about the history of aviation in Alabama, talking about when the Wright brothers opened their first civil flying school in Montgomery, all the way through some people that live here in the state who were astronauts.  And, mainly, if you come back and go through the audio chapters on the computer screens, it just tells you from the early stages of how aviation got started in the state, and then it gives you a comprehensive look at the Airbus facility and the Airbus assembly line.”

Did you know?

  • In 1909, E.T. Odum displayed an airplane similar to the Wright brothers’ Flyer (which first flew in 1903) at the Alabama State Fair.
  • The next year, in 1910, Wilbur and Orville Wright called Odum’s hand and raised by bringing one of their Flyers to the Alabama State Fair, and by establishing a flying school near Montgomery.  It only lasted about two months, though, and produced one official graduate. The location would eventually become Maxwell Air Force Base.
  • The Department of the Army established multiple military flying schools around Alabama, which trained pilots for both world wars.
  • After First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Army aviation school at Tuskegee in 1941 and took a flight with African-American pilot Alfred Anderson, she was so impressed, she helped finance the construction of Moton Field near the city.  The field was the site of primary flight training for Alabama’s most famous wartime aviators, the Tuskegee Airmen.
  • Hunstville’s Redstone Arsenal was the new home to German rocket scientists brought to the U.S. at the end of World War II.  The base became the Army’s primary missile technology center, and also became home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
  • Five Alabama-born NASA astronauts participated in 15 space shuttle missions- among them Kathryn Thornton, the first woman to make multiple spacewalks, and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.
  • Alabama is home to Continental Motors, a large producer of aircraft engines and boasts two aircraft manufacturing facilities owned by Airbus and Boeing.

Said Harrison, “The main reason we wanted this is we can get people up here and get them interested in aviation.  There’s such a need right now for pilots and mechanics, and flight attendants, and everyone else; we’re trying to get the younger people to understand that there is a career path there, because not everyone has the opportunity to get on an airplane now and go somewhere.  So they may not think about that as a career path as they’re starting to look at the things they want to do.”

Cullman Regional Airport serves private as well as corporate aviation and is also home to Skydive Alabama and Wallace State Aviation.  The exhibit is located in the terminal, which is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. For a bonus experience, consider visiting between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday when The Prop diner is open for breakfast and lunch.  

The “Aviation in Alabama” exhibit was scheduled to be at Cullman Regional Airport until Aug. 17, but Harrison hopes to keep it through World Helicopter Day on Aug. 19.  

For more on Cullman’s World Helicopter Day activities, see www.cullmantribune.com/articles/2018/08/06/wallace-state-s-aviationfligh....

Cullman Regional Airport is located at 231 County Road 1360 in Vinemont.  For more information, call 256-775-1011 or visit www.cullmanregionalairport.org.

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