Airplane museum to host public open house May 18

Published in the May 8 – 21, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Photo by Robert Airoldi
Herb Robbins, a longtime Wings of History Museum volunteer, works on a plane propeller.

By Donna Lane

Aviation’s past and present will come to life at the annual Aviation Day, May 18, at the Wings of History Museum located in San Martin and the adjacent airport grounds. Though the museum has been open more than 35 years, this is the 18th open house. Among its displays are 24 aircraft, some of which are still operable, with a few more in storage. The nonprofit organization relies on donations, volunteers, and membership dues to keep going. The open house allows aviation enthusiasts and those curious about the subject to support the museum’s efforts.

The open house will feature antique and vintage aircraft, tethered hot air balloon rides, free airplane rides for kids ages 8 to 17, a Drone Zone obstacle course, model aircraft demonstrations, model building, kids’ activities, food trucks, and live music by the Bipolar Bears. The event and parking are free, but all donations will benefit the Wings of History museum. Fly-ins are welcome. And of course, attendees can also tour the museum, which contains a fascinating array of aircraft, instruments, models, and memorabilia.

“This will be a more community-focused event than it has been in the past,” said Ed Stricker, the president of the Wings of History museum. “The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department will be here with their helicopter. The CHP will have vehicles, as well as the Civil Air Patrol. Gavilan College will have a booth set up for their aviation mechanics program. There will also be some technical lectures.”

The idea of this event is to promote interest in aviation and let residents see what the Wings of History museum has to offer. One activity that’s specially designed to educate would-be aviators is the free airplane ride for children. These are provided by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 62. After a brief primer, they’ll take up two or three kids at a time for a ride in a certified aircraft.

Stricker himself developed an early interest in aviation. “When I was a young kid, I just loved airplanes,” he said. “I got my pilot’s license in the early 1980s. I knew the museum had a restoration shop. I couldn’t quit my job, but I like to work on stuff, like cars, motorcycles, houses, and arcade machines. So, I started showing up every Tuesday and Thursday.”

He has since retired from his career as an IT project manager and is now a fixture at the museum. “Like an idiot, I joined the board,” he joked, then  added that he’d like to expand the facilities, raise funds, and bring attention to the small but impressive museum.

Another special draw of the open house is the ICON A5. This is an amphibious light-sport aircraft, a high-wing flying boat monoplane that seats two people. For those interested in light-sport aviation, this is an opportunity to get a closer look and sign up for a demonstration flight.

A new feature for this year’s open house is the Drone Zone, an obstacle course set up under a canopy. Drone pilots can test their navigation skills as they work their way through a model village. Rounding out the event are an RC airplane simulator, face painting, a book sale, and a chance for kids to build a glider out of foam plates.

Merle Ensign is the vice president of the museum. After he was recruited as a volunteer docent every Saturday, he also joked that he “got dragooned into being vice president” of the museum’s board, a post he has filled for the past two years. But it’s all for a good cause. Like Stricker, Ensign loves being around the unique aircraft. He also loves educating visitors about this undiscovered family-friendly gem, hidden in plain sight near the San Martin Airport.

“A museum by nature is an educational institution,” Ensign said. “I always ask visitors where they’re from. It’s amazing to me how many people are from the immediate area but have never been here before.”

The Wings of History Air  Museum actively seeks volunteers who can skillfully guide visitors through the museum’s two hangars as they spin anecdotes and dispense knowledge. The May 18 open house will be an entertaining flight of fancy, to say the least.

Marty Cheek