A New Home for the Hagerstown Aviation Museum

When John Seborn and a few other aviation historians displayed their private collection of Fairchild memorabilia at the 1995 Homecoming Air Show, many confused the displays, which were being shown in an old T hangar, for a museum dedicated to Fairchild Aircraft. The show that year featured many of the men and women who built Fairchild aircraft during World War II. Many veterans and Rosie the Riveters were on hand to celebrate. The interest, excitement, and comments about a museum began and got John and the others thinking about what it would take to build a proper museum. 

“We always had the idea of building an actual facility,” said John. In the early 2000s, that idea began to pick up steam. Fairchild’s Chief Pilot Richard Hensen joined the mission to secure a permanent location for a collection honoring not just Fairchild, but all of the history made in the Hagerstown, Maryland area. “Richard was just such a positive person. Very charismatic and really an inspirational person to be around,” John fondly recalls. 

The Hagerstown Aviation Museum was newly formed when in 2006 a key aircraft for their history came up to an auction. The Fairchild C-82 Packet. “The aircraft had been flying with Hawkins and Powers Aviation.  There was an auction being held and this was our chance to get this airplane. It is a very important piece for our collection.” 

The group reached out to all of their resources and came up with $140,000. They went out to the auction and attempted to buy it. “At the auction there were people bidding in person and then sometimes on the phone. We would go back and forth with the gentleman running the auction, then he’d go to the phone and that bidder would bid again.” After a few tense moments, John and his group made one final bid of just about all of the funds raised. The auctioneer went to the phone and then made the announcement. “Well it looks as if the C-82 is going home to Hagerstown!”

Cheering broke out among the people at the auction. They too were glad to see this piece going to where it will be loved for not just an aircraft, but also a piece of local history. Thanks to the many mechanics and ground crew who had worked on the aircraft when it was operating at H&P, it was ready for the delivery flight in October of that year. As the wheels touched down on that Maryland runway, tears of joy and pride were shed as the last C-82 flight was in the books. Many who helped build the aircraft were on hand to greet its arrival to the ramp.

John was soon shocked by another surprise. “One of the things we wanted to buy when we were out at the auction was a C-119, which is another important Fairchild aircraft. However, we needed to get the C-82 first as that was the last of its type available.” A week after the auction, the auctioneer himself called John.  He was so moved by the group trying to save the Fairchild aircraft that he bought and donated a C-119 to the museum. 

The museum has now grown to over 23 aircraft. Most are Fairchild-built, however all have a tie to the local community. The aircraft were hangared all over the airport and many times not really able to be viewed by the public. Then in the summer of 2019, the original Fairchild factory plant was sold. Luckily the new owner, Michel Langer, is a pilot and fan of vintage aircraft. He offered up a part of the factory, the “dome hangar,” for the aircraft collection to be housed. This will allow the collection to be displayed all together. The dome hangar was also the first test flight hangar for Fairchild during World War II. “The hangar itself is an artifact. It is where the test pilots were based out of and also where the Air Transport Command would ferry the aircraft from. Many WASP would pick up PT-19’s here.” 

It is great to see aviation history being expanded in the manner in which the Hagerstown Aviation Museum is doing it. It is important to all of us fans of vintage aircraft, and vastly important to preserve the local heritage for the Hagerstown area. More on the museum can be found at hagerstownaviationmuseum.org or on Facebook.

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