Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wings Over Miami- You better get out there to see it soon, or you may miss it forever. This is a local museum at risk. Loss of this facility would be a shame of historic proportion.

I have covered many “did you know” columns before. This one is to try to grab your attention about a jewel that we are at risk of losing. Please, make this a case of support for its success rather than ‘sorry I missed it.’ Please read on.

Out in Kendall, there is a little museum that hidden on the west side of Kendall-Tamami Executive Airport. It is not fancy or even pristine, but it is what I consider one of the best little museums in our county. This museum is filled with flying aircraft, both vintage and warbirds. It is a living museum, ever changing as the planes come and go.

Wings Over Miami Air Museum was birthed in the empty hangar of the old Weeks Air Museum after local resident and airplane collector, Kermit Weeks, moved out up to Poke County with his collection. Four pilots and warbird lovers created the museum and it has been in existence for the past 11 years.

The museum regularly offers classic and warbirds aircraft in flight as well as in the hangar. There is no other similar museum south of mid-Florida. It fills a need within the South Florida community for an active aviation museum.  Both children and adults are able to view first hand planes they have only experienced through video and publications.

Wings Over Miami requires a hangar and a safe place on the runway to fly its planes. From its current location, the museum can safely walk school children to Miami Dade College’s School of Aviation for a peek and to the FAA Control Tower for a view of world from its top. Flight schools can bring in little planes for the children to sit in as they let their imaginations fly.

This coming Saturday, the museum is hosting a female WWII pilot’s memorial service. There will be veterans of all ages, from WWII to Korea to Afghanistan, and from all military services coming together in this working hangar to show their respect for WASP Helen Snapp. A service such as this could be held in a church, but what better way to honor a fallen pilot than to surround them with the very planes they flew?

Now this museum, filled with wonderful artifacts of aviation’s past, is under pressure from the county to not only pay $6,200 a month rent ($74,000 a year), but thousands of dollars in penalties,  interest and principal on late payments from years back.

As someone with a brother in active military service, I can’t help but wonder about how will we treat our veterans and their history if we cannot even help a little museum like Wings to survive in a county as large as ours?

Our future veterans, represented by The Tamami Composite Civil Air Patrol, which is housed in the museum, flys air search and Homeland Security Missions from the museum. They are at the museum at least once a week; all 135+ members of the group’s youth and adults. They maintain an office on site and use the entire museum for their activities. These are teens who are learning Air Force military skills and adult pilots who volunteer their time and skills to provide security for our community and South Florida. Their history of supporting the Coast Guard goes all the way back to Miami Beach in WWII. The organization is multicultural, multigenerational and has both female and male cadets. It reflects the up and coming pilots that will fly the new generation of planes and warbirds.

I recall the campaigns for bond money for parks and museums. Museums in Dade County, seem to be moving around all over the place at taxpayers’ expense. Waterfront venues, huge buildings, large parcels are no problem for county taxpayers.

Why is it that we have money for the MAM, the Science Museum, and Children’s museum all with their bay front views, but not for a museum that simply does what it does best without asking for free rent?  How many of the county museums have free or a $1 rent while the aviation department continues to push the rent up and the museum out of its home along with the nearby Bay of Pigs Memorial?

Of all the departments in the county, I cannot imagine one that would be better suited to help fund and nurture an aviation museum than the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. Sure, Wings is not the Smithsonian, but then the Smithsonian doesn’t have the charm of being an honest-to-God working aviation hangar.

This museum has been self-sustaining for as many years as it can be. How many other county museums have lived 11 years without funding assistance?  All the museum’s fundraising goes to the county either as rent or to keep the doors open. It can’t grow, it can’t develop programs and it can’t do repairs because it’s funding goes directly to maintaining operations. The board has paid over $417 thousand in rent alone to MDAD since 2007.

Over the years, the board of directors and the museum pilots have paid thousands of dollars in personal donations to the county aviation department to keep those planes in a publicly accessible hangar. They have put their time and money into making this unique history stay alive for the community. However, with the excessive county debt hovering over their heads, the museum is going to come to a quick end if we don’t step in help with donations, some time and talent.

What can you do to help the museum?  You can help stabilize it by contacting the Aviation Department Directors to let them know that Wings is important to this community. You can call or email the county commissioners and the county mayor. You can donate cash; you can buy an annual family membership.

This is our children’s heritage and our parent’s legacy that Wings Over Miami is seeking to preserve. Give them a hand. Do something now, before it is too late. or

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Eugene.

    We welcome all the assistance the community can muster.

    Suzette Rice
    Wings Over Miami