A century of high-flying history

A F-4 Phantom is one of the planes displayed on the tarmac at the Santa Maria Museum of Flight.//Bryan Walton/Staff

A century of aviation history is on display at the Santa Maria Museum of Flight overlooking the city’s public airport.

The museum, which boasts everything from a full-scale replica of the Wright Brothers 1902 glider to a fragment from the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger, is housed in two buildings at 3015 Airpark Drive, northwest of the airport terminal.

The main building, a modest-looking, tawny-colored wood structure, has a bit of history of its own. It was a hangar built for Disney’s “The Rocketeer” filmed at the airport in 1991.

A metal hangar nearby — once the original museum — remains part of the complex, said head docent John Killpack, a World War II and aerospace veteran and knowledgeable guide.

Hanging from the ceiling of the wood hangar, devoted to early aviation, is the Wright Brothers’ glider.  “It’s flimsy-looking — it’s sturdy though,” said Killpack. “Those two bike mechanics figured all this out.”

Elsewhere in the spacious room are “all kinds of models,” said Killpack, voicing an understatement. He pointed out full-size vintage aircraft such as a 1929 Fleet Model 2. There also are large radio-controlled airplanes down to planes the size of a child’s toy. A set of prized Topping dioramas depict aviation history. Walls hold photos and maps. Aviation “firsts” abound.

The museum highlights Capt. G. Allan Hancock, who pioneered much of Santa Maria’s airplane history. There is a model of the Southern Cross, the first plane to fly across the Pacific, financed by Hancock, and photos of his College of Aeronautics where Hancock College now stands.

Outside between the buildings are an F-4 Phantom, an A-4 Skyhawk, an F-86 Sabre, and Titan and Delta rocket engines. The second hangar includes a half scale P-38, a mockup of a cockpit for “The Aviator” film, a Stinson Reliant, a once-secret Norden Bombsight and the Challenger fragment.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, less for seniors and children. Military personnel and dependents are free.

The museum also sponsors the “Thunder Over the Valley” air show to be held Aug. 27 through 29.

For more information, call 922-8758 or go to www.smmof.org.

Posted: Tuesday, June 22, 2010  12:00 am