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story.lead_photo.caption A Dassault Falcon 20 jet sits outside the all-wood main building of Arkansas Air & Military Museum at Fayetteville’s Drake Field. - Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette / MARCIA SCHNEDLER

FAYETTEVILLE -- Older Arkansans should still recognize the name Amelia Earhart, the legendary female aviator who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

But few residents of the Natural State are aware of Louise McPhetridge Thaden, born in Bentonville and described as "the second most famous American female pilot of the golden age of aviation."

Thaden's story is among the intriguing exhibits at the Arkansas Air & Military Museum. Located at Fayetteville's Drake Field, the museum displays an array of aircraft along with other vehicles and paraphernalia. Aviation buffs can admire the planes. Other visitors can expand their knowledge of military and civilian flying.

Thaden, as exhibits recount, was born in 1905, two years after the Wright Brothers' historic first flight. She evidently became as much a celebrity in the Roaring '20s as Earhart, winning the first long-distance Women's Air Derby in 1929. (Earhart was one of the runners-up.)

Honored in 1936 with aviation's highest award, the Harmon Trophy, Thaden later said, "In an age when some men didn't think a woman should drive a horse and buggy, much less an automobile, it was a job to prove that females could fly."

The museum, staffed largely by volunteers, has indoor and outdoor exhibits. Civilian planes on display include Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton's first personal aircraft, an Ercoupe 415C built in 1947. There's a Learjet 23 that was among the first of that renowned business craft to come off the assembly line in 1964.

They are housed in the museum's white main building, an attraction in itself. Described as "a majestic 1940s all-wood hangar," it was constructed when Drake Field served as a World War II training facility and is listed on the Arkansas Registry of Historic Places.

Displayed outdoors are several Navy and Air Force jet trainers and fighters, as well as a Vietnam-era Bell Huey Cobra helicopter. There's also a sleek Dassault Falcon 20 business jet.

A separate building, site of Ozark Military Museum before its merger with Arkansas Air Museum, is packed with U.S. and foreign vehicles and weapons. One of the most distinctive is a British Ferret light armored scout car, circa 1965.

A prime audience for all this hardware would figure to be the legion of war buffs who find fascination in military history. But visitors of a pacifist bent can welcome the message on one museum brochure: "The best hope for peace ... is in the remembrance of war."

Arkansas Air & Military Museum, at Drake Field, 4290 S. School Ave., Fayetteville, is open 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $10 ($9 for senior citizens and military veterans, $5 for youngsters 6-12).

On July 18, the museum will host its monthly summertime Airport Days! -- paid admission includes an 8-11 a.m. pancake breakfast and an 11 a.m.-2 p.m. lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs.

For more information, call (479) 521-4947 or visit arkansasairandmilitary.com.

Weekend on 07/09/2015

Print Headline: Air museum houses planes, tidbits of history

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