Combat Air Museum

(Frank) Today on Around Kansas Deb is at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka. Join us as we take a virtual tour of the property and feel like you in the middle of the action with this unique up close and personal hands on treasure nestled right on the south edge of the capital city. If you are interested in history, military or aviation…you won’t want to miss it.

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(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas. We’re smack dab in the middle of the Combat Air Museum at Forbes Field and with me is Gene Howerter who has been here from the beginning of this incredible museum. And Gene is Chairman of the Board of the Directors of the Combat Air Museum and Gene, it is just great to be with you. (Gene) Well, I thank you for coming and doing this, we need all the advertising we can get. (Deb) Well, this is an incredible place, so tell us just how you got started. (Gene) Well, first of all let me say that this really truly is a labor of love and I think that the people should understand that we’re a 100% volunteer organization here at the Combat Air Museum. We hire a full time curator and a part-time office manager and everyone else is volunteers and we have retirees from IBM, and we have retirees from Hill’s Pet Food – Colgate Palmolive, we have people from all different walks of life. Our accountant is even a banker, retired banker who comes in and volunteers to do that. But anyway, the Combat Air Museum was really an idea from a local guy who… a Topeka High School student, who lived in Topeka by the name of Bob Schneider. And Bob was interested in aviation, and after he graduated from Topeka High School in 1959 he, I don’t know where he went in aviation, but he got to know a lot of people. (Deb) Right. (Gene) And one of his acquaintances was a guy by the name of David Talashea. Now most people wouldn’t know David Talashea other than the fact that he owned more World War II aircraft than anybody in the world. He had a about a 105 airplanes. And so Bob saw an opportunity to try to tap him to get him to bring his airplanes to Topeka where we would hangar them and we could fly them and do everything with them and so on and it would save him… let’s face it, money in California doing all this because they were here in our museum. Well, David Talashea, for those who don’t know was Conrad Hilton’s son-in-law. (Deb) Oh wow. (Gene) And he was married to Conrad Hilton’s daughter and through that family they started a business called the 190th Aerospace Restaurants around the country that were in airports and it was David’s idea that he would take the proceeds from all that business and he would put it in old aircraft. And then they at the same time, they would increase in value and therefore, the money would go up. I don’t know that that really turned out to be true that it really happened, but he did have all these airplanes and that was his idea that they would increase in value. So we started with a B24 bomber. We’ve just acquired over the years, I should say we were a flying museum at this time, we used to fly the airplanes, we hangared them and did our thing and after we met at Washburn University and got this organization started in about 1975 and over the years we’ve just developed into what we are now. We quit flying about 10 or 12 years ago. We don’t fly airplanes any more it’s too expensive to fly airplanes, insurance and one thing and another so anyway, we worked our way up. We have about 40 aircraft in the museum here. And no we don’t fly any aircraft anymore. (Deb) Well, it’s stunning. There’s a lot more to talk about with Combat Air Museum, so stay tuned, we’ll we right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to the Combat Air Museum and with me is Dick Trupp and Dick has been here from the beginning, is that right Dick? (Dick) Well, pretty close, yeah 1980. Not quite the beginning. (Deb) Not quite the beginning but so many of these planes, like I think the one we are standing in front of everybody says well that’s Dick’s baby, so why don’t you tell us about this? (Dick) Alright, this aircraft we’re in front of is an F9F5 Panther and it actually flew in the Korean War. This very aircraft with this number 110 and the bureau number of the Navy on the tail. We, at the time we dedicated this when we had it restored there were four pilots who had flown it in combat in Korea. Now there is one left. (Deb) Hm huh. (Dick) And he is a retired. He was the Chief of Naval Operations and he flew the aircraft and we still have contact with this man, his name his Tom Hayward. And he has taken a liking to the museum and of course we have his aircraft. (Deb) That’s wonderful (Dick) So, it’s a good story. (Deb) Now Gene spoke to us about the beginning of the museum was a collector that had a bunch of planes, but as you’ve added aircraft where have they come from? How have you acquired those? (Dick) Good question, we’ve …. a large majority of our aircraft come through the the Air Force Museum, the Navy’s Museum, the Army’s control point in Michigan. And then we have purchased and owned probably nine aircraft of our own here. And then we’ve had several loaners in here. And we’ve had some donated. Some of these replicas that hang from the overhead here were given to us. World War I replicas. So it’s kind of across the board Deb- loaners, our own, and then the museums and the Army’s loaning point. (Deb) Let’s talk about the ME109 real quick, because that’s a favorite of mine and obviously not an American plane. (Dick) German. (Deb) Yes, it’s a German. So talk about that one. That’s a replica as well. (Dick) Well that’s an interesting piece. It’s actually a model, a prototype model of an ME109G-10 and it got here, it originally belong to David Talashea, who had something to do, a lot to do with this museum. (Deb) Right. (Dick) And it was one of Talashea’s collections and it was in the background in the Battle of Britain. (Deb) In the movie. A lot of folks will remember the movie The Battle of Britain. (Dick) Thank you, it was the movie, it wasn’t the real action. And from a distance, it looks exactly like a 109 however, it’s a mock up. When you get up closer you can tell. But we are really fortunate to have it because there are not many 109’s left. The German’s manufactured about 33,000 of those during the second World War and most are destroyed and long gone. But we have the replica, the restoration you might say and it’s a good one to have. (Deb) Well, that’s just a another piece of aviation history isn’t it, because World War II and Germany was doing so much with planes, the new Messerschmidt jet and there were so many advances made on both sides during World War II. (Dick) That’s right. (Deb) To be able to tell both sides of the story is really something. (Dick) It’s important. We would never have an aircraft, a real prototype aircraft from World War II. Well, never say never, but not likely. So we are really fortunate to have what we have there. (Deb) Hm huh. Every aircraft has a story, doesn’t it? (Dick) It does. (Deb) Just amazing and you’ve got just such a beautiful collection and as Gene said it really is a labor of love to take care of these to find them, and to take care of them, and restore them and thanks so much, we appreciate it. (Dick) Well, you bet. (Deb) We’ll be right back, stay tuned.

(Deb) Welcome back to the Combat Air Museum and with me is Dave Murray and Dave talks a little funny because he is from Rhodesia. And Dave does a lot of the educational programming and outreach here at the museum and what a wonderful teaching tool this is. (Dave) It really is because we are right on an active air base here and an airport, so a lot of the Air National Guard, the Army National Guard, the MTAA and the control tower folk are very, very kind to us. They let the kids come over, visit the facility, climb all over the KC 135’s and Black Hawk helicopters. So the kids have a great time and one of the best things they do is look through the night vision goggles at the Army National Guard. We do teach them a little bit about the fundamentals of flight and structures of airplanes and why airplanes fly. And so we do try to instill some learning in them. (Deb) So, it’s a good way to get kids interested in science as well as we think obviously military applications. (Dave) And math. (Deb) Math and science is a biggie here. (Dave) Wherever they go, the folks in the National Guards emphasize math, because they do a lot of calculations on weight of fuel in the planes and distance that they can travel, including the temperature range that they have to deal with. (Deb) Okay let’s talk about Dave, the regular classes that you offer for students. (Dave) Um huh. So Dave can you tell me about the regular classes that the Combat Air Museum offer throughout the year? (Dave) In fact, we offer four classes during the year. Three during Summer vacations and one during Spring break. We basically do four days in the week, Monday through Thursday, 9 through 12:30 and we take kids through the instructional stuff that I talked about. And then after that we have them visit with the other military facilities around the air field here. And they also get to fly in our brand new flight simulator. (Deb) They love that don’t they? (Dave) Yeah, they really do. So we try to make it as much fun, but we try to make it a learning opportunity and as I say all the military have treated us very, very well. (Deb) Well, aviation is such a big part of Kansas. (Dave) It is. (Deb) We’re literally the Heartland of America but the Heartland when it comes to aviation as well. (Dave) Yeah, and one of our instructors has really wanted to do a two or three day class on the history of aviation in Kansas with Longren and some of the others, Amelia Earhart and Phillip Billard, etc. We’re try to put that together if we can. We also do a Scout aviation merit badge instruction. (Deb) Oh great. (Dick) And we’re having one come up soon. But we take parts of the aviation badge that we can cover with some of the instruction items here and then the Scouts go down into the control tower and they also get a tour of the museum. (Deb) Wow. You’re right being on an active base is just great. (Dave) It really is very helpful. (Deb) Thank you so much Dave. We’ll be right back with more of Around Kansas.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. I’m Deb Bisel and with me again is Gene Howerter at the Combat Air Museum. Gene, this is a tremendous operation so how do you guys get the funding to keep this going? (Gene) Well, the majority of the money that we get here, comes through people coming in the front door who visit the museum and then also our gift shop. The money we make in the gift shop. Now, we have been very fortunate because a lot of our members, we have about 280 members, 280 people that we send our newsletter to around the country now. And those people have been very generous in helping us with some… when they pay their dues, which are $35 dollars a year, a lot of them will send a hundred dollars. (Deb) So, anybody can join, you don’t have to have any affiliation? (Gene) Anybody can join the Combat Air Museum that wants and then they can come out and they can volunteer and the thing is, that’s how we get funding that way. We have three main events each year which I will tell you real quick. Our Annual Celebrity Pancake Feed is coming up on April the 26th, we’ll have about 700 people here flipping pancakes. (Deb) It’s a great event. (Gene) We will have our Congressmen, radio, TV personalities, sports figures and people from all these different places that will come in and flip pancakes. It will be Perkins pancakes with Bob Carmichael. And at the same time we have entertainment. We’ve got some singing groups coming in, musical groups, different things and usually Beverly Bernardi’s girls come and dance. The people like that. And so there will be a lot of entertainment. But I think the one thing that we can say is that we don’t really receive any federal or state funding from anybody. (Deb) Yeah. (Gene) Not that we wouldn’t take it. But we’re here and we just kind of, we just live hand to mouth. (Deb) What are you working on now? What’s the future of the museum? Anything big coming up? (Gene) Actually the future of the museum is actually not in aircraft, we’re full. And it isn’t like we wouldn’t take something else that was really needing to come and comes along. But what we’re trying to do now, this is a World War II hangar, it’s a very historical hangar that we are in and our other hangar is also historical but our main goal now is try to finish up the cladding on the building and get… this hangar was built in 1942 in World War II. It is the last WWII hangar on the flight line and it’s not air conditioned and heated. We need new lighting, we need siding. We need to just put a lot of things in it to make the hangar more friendly for people when they come. (Deb) Right. (Gene) Now even though it is an historical hangar. I will say this, along with that just kind of shift gears. The thing that I hear when people leave the museum is how much they love coming here. And I mean they are genuine. (Deb) Absolutely. (Gene) And I ask them why would you like to come to this museum, more than going to like the museum in Omaha, which is the Sac museum or bigger museums with a lot more money and a lot more fancy stuff, and they say, we like your museum because it is up front and personal. It is personal museum, we can get our hands on things, we can touch and we can look and we can feel and there isn’t somebody standing around policing us, ready to throw us out. So it’s a warm, fuzzy type of museum with a tremendous amount… they can’t believe how much stuff we have here. We really have a lot of possessions and not only airplanes, but probably one of the biggest engine displays that there is in a museum anywhere. And different display cases. One last thing I would like to say is that we are getting geared up here for World War I. (Deb) Right. (Gene) And we’re going to be putting in over the next 4 years, this is the hundredth anniversary of World War I and we’ve got teams of people, and separate people that are building display cases. When people come out they can see World War I displays and I realize that if people have been here before, they say we’ve seen the airplanes but they like to come back and see those again. But the bottom line is they will see some new displays in the museum, which need to change, and so we’ll be working on World War I displays primarily over the next 4 years. They’re going in now some of them. (Deb) You can come back again and again and there’s always something new to spend some time on. (Gene) There sure is. They can bring their kids and their grandkids they can take lots of pictures. We’ve got our new flight simulator. (Deb) That is a biggie. (Gene) The people love the flight simulator. That is something we wanted. They can actually fly a real airplane in a real environment that feels like an airplane. They can fly a Cub or they can fly a Cessna or some of our members like to fly a 737. (Deb) Wow, what an experience. Well, Gene it’s tremendous and thank you so much for allowing us inside. Next time we see you we hope it is right here at the Combat Air Museum. Thanks for watching.

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