Museum seeks more space for preserving some invaluable history

The Champaign Aviation Museum has started a capital campaign to raise funds for expansion of its current hangar.

The museum specializes in restoring World War II-era aircraft. It opened in 2007, and a group of volunteers has been working on restoration of planes since before that, in 2006.

Dozens of volunteers are now working on a gray, black and yellow B-17. It is taking up half of the 23,000-square-foot facility, which is not leaving room for many other projects.

“The B-17 is obviously one of the most iconic World War II aircraft that there (is),” Champaign Aviation Museum Executive Director Dave Shiffer said.

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The museum would like to double its current space. That expansion would cost $2.3 million. The museum has been talking about expansion for the past year and a half, Shiffer said.

“People want to donate aircraft to the museum, and it’s because we are a flying museum they want to see the aircraft that they know and love to continue to fly,” he said.

The project’s need became more evident in the spring, when two donors wanted to give planes to the museum, but space was an issue. The extra space of an expansion would allow the museum to work on more projects.

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“We are looking for private donations. We are asking people for money. We are applying for grants,” Shiffer said.

That money will be used to expand the existing hangar. When restoration is completed on the current B-17 project, space will be needed to maintain it and other World War II aircraft. The added space will allow the aircraft to be displayed and protected. That will cost $1.4 million.

The funds will also be used for an educational space, which will teach the public about history, including the people who served and the planes that flew. That extra space will cost $400,000, and an endowment of $500,000 is part of the plan.

Most volunteers who work in the museum have some connection to World War II, including many through fathers or uncles. One volunteer, Mike Pfarr, fits that profile. His father was an airman in World War II.

“My father was a B-17 tail gunner in World War II,” Pfarr said.

Pfarr’s father was stationed in Lavenham, England, was a member of the 487th Bomb Crew and flew 28 missions.

“I couldn’t get a lot of information from my dad,” he said. “So, whenever I could, it was golden. I held it in my heart and now I am doing this as a memory to my father.”

He heard more stories when his family had to take his father to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dayton in the 1960s. He still had metal fragments, called flak, in his body.

“I feel like I’m closer to my dad, and I really believe that he knows what is going on here. I feel that strongly,” Pfarr said.

The new facility is planned to be operational by 2020.

If you would like to donate to the campaign, contact the Champaign Aviation Museum at 937-652-4710.

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