ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
The aerial park at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum offers a glimpse into the past with Air Force relics dating back to World War I. The museum is a place for all ages to come and see Ellsworth’s proud heritage on display. Glistening aircraft, towering missiles and artifacts galore await visitors within its grounds and facilities.
Over 100,000 people visit the museum annually to see the 25 static displays including a B-1 Bomber and a B-29 Superfortress; however, these planes do not take care of themselves. Volunteers are needed to maintain and give these retired aircraft the care and attention they need so future generations can learn the stories of the now dormant aircraft.
“The program is an initiative between the SDASM and the 28th Bomb Wing to have units on base as well as private organizations take pride and ownership of an aircraft at the museum,” said Master Sgt. Robert Wyman, the first sergeant assigned to the 28th Operations Group and Bomb Wing Staff. “This gives Airmen a chance to keep these pieces of history in pristine condition for others to enjoy for years to come.”
So far, 10 units from the base have adopted aircraft and more plan to join the program. Private organizations such as the Air Force Sergeants Association and the Boy Scouts of America are also stepping up to help out. Master Sgt. Mark Wight, the curator at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, hopes to have all of the displays adopted before the 2018 tourist season begins.
“We want them to wash, bird proof, maintain, do minor paint touch ups, clear away any weeds around the aircraft and help give the artifact some tender-loving care,” Wight said. “We are not changing the appearance of the displays but we will put plaques in front of the aircraft to show what unit is maintaining it.”
‘Adopt a Plane’ program participants will wash the static displays twice a year — in the spring and in the fall. They will also provide minor upkeep such as bird proofing, pulling weeds and other small tasks. This will ensure aircraft are will not deteriorate from exposure to harmful elements.
The dedicated work of these volunteers helps preserve the heritage of Ellsworth and South Dakota aviation. Heritage is a focal point of the Air Force and a way to show younger generations the history of flight and show visitors the future of airpower.
“When you look at the Airmen’s Creed, it mentions heritage,” Wyman said. “Often times we are searching for ways as leaders to show new Airmen what it means to be an Airman, what it means for our service, and what it means for our culture. Remembering where we came from is extremely important to the success of the Air Force.”
To steer the conservation efforts in the right direction, the museum is looking for a full-time volunteer to manage the aerial park. The candidate should be an Air Force retiree with general knowledge of various airframes and has an understanding of turbine and propeller engines. As the airpark manager, he or she will coordinate with the ‘Adopt a Plane’ volunteers on routine maintenance and upkeep.
“The main reason I want a full-time volunteer is for the stability to be able to take care of the aerial park,” Wight said. Also that full-time individual can be the continuity between museum curators to help keep operations running smoothly.”
There is a significant amount of projects being conducted by the SDASM. Many volunteers are needed to finish them.
“I’m extremely excited for this,” Wyman said. “The work that Sergeant Wight is putting in as well as the units that are stepping up to adopt the aircraft is amazing. I think we are off to a great start and once things really get rolling the museum is going to look incredible.”