Experimental Test Pilots Society boosts museum with $100,000 donation

The missions of two non-profit organizations dedicated to recording, preserving, and displaying the Aerospace Valley’s heritage were joined with the kiss of a $100,000 cheque from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots to the Flight Test Historical Foundation for construction of the new Air Force Flight Test Museum, Education Center and Bob Hoover Library at Century Circle outside the gates of Edwards Air Force Base.

An artists’ impression of interior of the new Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Courtesy photograph)

The six-figure donation will be combined with still incoming and not fully tabulated revenue from other donations and live and online auctions of aerospace fine art, professional photography, pilot paraphernalia, and aerospace collectibles.

This first live audience Gathering of Eagles since 2019 attracted an audience of about 300, despite lingering health concerns and COVID-related travel difficulties.

In a statement about the future home of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Archives and library, named in honor of legendary Aerospace Valley test pilot Bob Hoover, the Flight Test Historical Foundation said it is honored to partner with the SETP to host the SETP archives, oral histories and artifacts, saying, “This continues our mission to preserve the history of Flight Test and to educate the public about the tremendous advancements in aerospace engineering, air and space exploration and human imagination in flight test. Through the generous donation of the SETP Foundation, the Air Force Flight Test Museum will have the funding for the building of the Bob Hoover Library and SETP STEM classrooms.”

Flight Test Museum Chairman Art Thompson and FTHF Director of Education and Community Outreach Lisa Brown accepted the oversize cheque from SETP Foundation officials.

As explained by event officials, the check presentation was a result of ongoing discussions between the two organizations on avenues to coordinate their objectives and leverage resources to achieve respective goals. The SETP made an earlier contribution of $50,000 under an arrangement by which additional funding would come in installments timed to construction phases.

According to Lisa Brown, FTHF Director of Education and Community Outreach, the SETP’s final phased contribution will reach the $250,000 level, assuring SETP a new, larger, and more productive home open to the public at the threshold of Edwards AFB.

Brown said SETP’s decision to co-locate with the new museum came after several years of exploring possible independent construction of a new headquarters and archives. Brown said the co-location is a win-win for all concerned, with Lancaster and Palmdale hotels, restaurants, and visitor industry services receiving increased customer volume and revenue from the much larger crowds attracted to the major regional museum and the Joe Davies and Blackbird airparks near Air Force Plant 42.

In welcoming attendees, Thompson said the program’s focus is on sharing the facts about innovation and excellence that continues to secure the ability of the United States and its Allies to dominate the sky and to inspire future generations to follow that path of excellence. The Flight Test Museum, he said, “contains a rich collection of firsts in aerospace and flight test.

Members of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots present a check for $100,000 to the Flight Test Museum Foundation towards the construction of the new museum, including the Bob Hoover Library. (Courtesy photograph)

“More than just a collection of incredible aircraft, spacecraft, and artifacts. It is a collection of the creative genius necessary to achieve what has never been done before. The museum aims to inspire those seeking a path, to educate through our STEM education programs and interactive lectures, and to share a world-class learning center with the world.”

He said the new 70,000-square-foot Flight Test Museum and STEM Center located just outside the gates of Edwards AFB will literally bring the world to see history where it was made.

Having recently expanded STEM education classrooms at Blackbird Airpark, and continuing to grow education programs in communities throughout the Aerospace Valley, Thompson said concrete foundations continue to be poured in anticipation of main building walls going up within months, with an architectural fade and wind breaks jetting up as a back-drop to Century Circle.

Thompson added, “We continue to partner with organizations such as the Society of Experimental Test Pilots to support the education systems of Edwards AFB, Palmdale, Lancaster, Rosamond, and surrounding communities and have had new interest and involvement from leaders in the arts, media, industry, government and business communities across the United States.”

To date, the inventory for the Air Force Flight Test Museum includes more than 80 historic aircraft. Currently Phase I construction is complete with the environmental studies, grading and the concrete poured and outfitted for utilities for the museum’s 75,000-square-foot foundation. Erection of the building shell is next, with STEM classrooms, SETP archives, and the Bob Hoover Library scheduled to follow in the main building.

Museum Director and Curator George Welsh reported that the existing on-base museum has reopened to base personnel four days a week, and the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale is open to the public on weekends.

Welsh reported aircraft maintenance, corrosion control, aircraft movement, and processing newly donated artifacts into the collection serve to keep staff and volunteers busy pending opening of the new building. He also said the hiring of Archivist/Curator, Renee Marchiano, formally with NASA, “is bringing collections management on par with the finest museums in the country.” Also joining the museum staff is former U.S. Air Force F-16 maintainer Sergio Cuevas, who will be responsible for maintaining historic aircraft in the collection.

Lisa Brown (left), Director of Education, and Art Thompson, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Flight Test Museum Foundation at the 2021 Gathering of Eagles, Oct. 23, 2021, at Antelope Valley College. (Courtesy photograph)

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