Discover aviation archeological treasures in the heartland at the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum

by Larry Grooms, special to Aerotech News

MARSHALL, Mo.–This rural heart of Middle America is a region where collectors and historians come in search of hidden gems and rare treasures. They look for Civil War artifacts, antique furnishings, and priceless vintage cars preserved in dilapidated barns and sheds. And then there are museum quality remains from America’s Golden Age of Aviation from 1919 to 1939.

Among seven recognized civil, commercial and military aviation museums ranging from St. Louis to Kansas City, perhaps the lesser-known but most historically rooted Golden Age shrine is the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum in Marshall, just down the road from Mark Twain’s hometown.

Museum and Community Executive Director Shanon Nichols notes that small town Marshall became a pioneering player in shaping the future of American aviation between the world wars.

Because of the vision of two local businessman, Russel Nicholas and Howard Beazley, the farming community broadened its economic base by opening an aircraft manufacturing plant in 1921, producing both spare parts and complete aircraft.

On March 6, 1924, the Nichols-Beazley duo stepped up again to open what was to become the world’s largest civilian flight school, training more than 3,000 pilots before its closure in 1939 as World War II erupted in Europe.

The Nicholas-Beazley Aircraft Factory produced a line of innovative aircraft, and fully restored original examples are displayed on the floors of its showrooms, along with some additional planes not designed and built there, but with historical ties to the region.
Flying Stars on exhibit include:
A 1927 NB-3 Trainer, one of only 100 built, and the last of just 20 to remain registered and airworthy. The low wing monoplane trainer NB-3 was among America’s first all-metal aircraft, and was called the new day airplane. The instructor pilot sat in back, with up to three students sitting side-by-side in a widened forward cockpit with a shareable stick. Designed by Walter H. Barling, NB-3 set records for altitude, distance, speed and fuel efficiency.

The NB-8, one of the most creative and practical designs to emerge from the Marshall factory in the early 1930s, involved design assistance from the legendary American engineer Al Mooney, founder of Moony Aircraft. The NB-8 has wooden wing ribs allowing wings to be folded back to be towed by a car and stored in a garage at a time when few airports had hangar space. Fifty-eight were built, five remain, and the Marshall, Mo. Museum has two, one of them with wings folded.

MIGNET HM-14 FLYING FLEA, designed by Henry Mignet and manufactured by Jacob Van Dyke with components supplied by Nicholas-Beazley, was built in 1937.  The diminutive one-person aircraft, resembling a cross between a motorized pram on bicycle wheels, is a rarity, owing in large part to its dubious appearance as a potential widow maker.

The 6+Taylorcraft TC-6 Army Air Corps Troop Glider on display at the museum had no direct historical attachment to Marshall Airport, Nichols explains, but the 1941 World War II veteran aircraft was found in the basement of a nearby community which had once been the home of actor Steve McQueen. Nichols recalls, “They told us if we could get it out, we could have it. So we did.”

(Photo courtesy of Aubrey Hobratschk)

Stimulating simulation
The classic promotional pitch about having something for kids of all ages is actually credible at the Nicholas-Beazley museum, where flight simulators are offered in a range of experience and skill sets to generate visitor enthusiasm from experienced pilots to elementary school pupils. Especially popular is the DC-9 flight deck simulator that is loud and challenging.

And Nichols proudly notes that the aviation museum in Marshall has a growing Science, Technology and Math (STEM) program that incorporates a virtual air traffic control tower where students learn about meteorology, academic skills associated with flight planning and aviation, and even airport security. They can learn to be TSA agents in the airport metal detector.

Older kids with gray around the edges are challenged as well by computer-based simulators where inattention does virtually prang the aircraft.

Visit the museum’s website at nicholasbeazley.org.

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