Today’s weather in this area was absolutely fantastic, and after many weekends of short hops or no flying at all, I was jonesing to stretch my legs a bit. At first, I’d planned to fly to a little airport near the Canadian border, but the flight there and back would have taken much of the day. Instead, I planned a flight to Elmira-Corning Regional Airport, to visit the National Warplane Museum that is located right on the airport grounds.
I departed my home airport at 11:00AM, and ninety minutes later touched down at Corning Regional. The views were great, and the air was smooth.
The museum was… interesting. For the seven dollar admission, you get to see a decent collection of military aircraft, and a fair collection of historical memorabillia. After an hour or so, I’d pretty much seen the entire museum, but that was when they announced the next guided tour of the restoration hangar.
Many of these aviation museums have restoration hangars, where the museum’s future exhibit pieces are being lovingly restored, and a tour is generally given by knowledgeable staff, or the artisans themselves. Having recently visited the Fantasy of Flight aviation museum in Florida, I was looking forward to a similar tour of this museum’s collection. But today’s tour was to be led by a docent who was clearly an old “hangar flyer”, who in my opinion did more harm to the museum and the wonder of aviation than good.
He showed up sporting the standard costume: Dockers khakis, black sneakers with velcro retention system, polo shirt, and baseball cap festooned with every possible military service pin freely available at the local army-navy store. He then regaled us with tales of his service as an MP for the Marines, none of which involved aviation in any way. He then made a reference to the jet aircraft on static display in front of the museum. He called it a MiG 15; actually, it was a
General Dynamics McDonnell Douglas F-15. Different era, different cold war enemy, but whatever.
The first plane on the tour, a Douglas BTD-1 Destroyer, was the highlight of the tour. I should say, the BTD-1. Only 26 were made, and only one remains, and this museum recently aquired it from a museum in South Carolina. I’d never heard of the model before, and it was interesting to see.
After the Destroyer, the tour included aircraft I had seen and even flown before, so when our guide began to discuss these planes, I began to see him for the wannabe ace he wasn’t. His commentary was riddled with innacuracies, and a lot of self-congratulatory tales of his own flying, including a thrilling airspeed indicator loss, where he claims he flew his Cessna 172 at 200 MPH on final so he wouldn’t stall. Never mind that the rest of the guests had no idea what an ASI was, nor that the loss of an ASI is no emergency.
Earlier he’d asked if there were any pilots in the crowd. I made the mistake of admitting that I was. So, many times, in the middle of one of his stories, he’d look to me with this “you know what I’m talking about, right?” Never mind that I had no idea what he was talking about half the time, nor that he was totally excluding all the other tour guests. It wasn’t long before the younger guests began to wander around and adopt that look that says: “what an asshole”.
The docent’s inaccuracies began to mount. I started writing them down.
Did you know that B-17s dropped “incinderator” bombs? (I’m quite certain that’s what he said, as he called them that at least three times. Incendiary bombs must have come later in modern warfare.) Many people consider the Aeronca Champ a contemporary of the J-3 Cub, but apparently there was also an “Aeronica” Champ flying around back then. And of course, the magnificent PBY Catalina flying boat has a “paraSAIL” wing. Jesus. Volunteer or not, there should be a test of some kind.
The tour group attrition rate was staggering, and I was only still there for material, but after the SNJ exhibit—where he asked me “have you ever seen one of these?”, and I replied: “I’ve rolled one of these”—I’d had enough. It was time to go.
All in all, the museum is definitely a good afternoon diversion of you’re in the Corning, NY area, just take what the docents say with a grain of salt.
When I was leaving the airport, I had a Cessna Citation X cleared for takeoff right behind me. The situation was laughable. One of the slowest Cessnas ever, ahead of the fastest Cessna ever. The X is that white speck on the far end of the runway in this photo. He’s sorta at the end of the black mark on the runway (tire skidmarks).
It wasn’t long before the X was above and ahead of me, and long gone. But I had another ninety minutes of smooth clear air ahead of me, and, as I dodged gliders soaring on the ridge just south of the airport, I settled in to enjoy the flight home.