By Nick DeCicco, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 10, 2007
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- One might think it impossible to make the largest museum in Air Mobility Command seem invisible, but that's exactly what Master Sgt. Terry Juran, 349th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said is a hurdle for Travis' Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Museum.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people just don't know that we exist," Sergeant Juran said recently. "There are people that have been on Travis for a number of years, and they'll come in here for a retirement ceremony or a promotion party and they'll say, 'Wow, this is neat. I never even knew it was here.'"
But visibility is only one of the issues facing the base's museum. Location is a primary issue for the facility, as it limits the number of visitors, slows staff productivity and complicates the upkeep of the building.
As if being low profile weren't a big enough hurdle, Sergeant Juran and Dr. Gary Leiser, museum director, agreed that being located far inside the base's walls greatly reduces the number of museum goers.
For those who are not active duty, civilian employees or retirees, a member of museum staff must take additional time out of his or her day to accommodate visitors.
"Someone from the museum has to physically go out to the front gate and sign that person in," he said.
Dr. Leiser said it "significantly" disrupts the staff's workflow.
"If we're in the middle of something and somebody calls, suddenly I have to go out to the gate, well, that's a 20-minute trip out there and back and it disrupts whatever we're working on," he said. "If that happens three, four, five times a day, you can't be very productive in your job. So, it has significantly undermined both the number of visitors and the efficiency of our work staff."
The staff's biggest job is maintaining what the museum has, Sergeant Juran said. He said the fact a large part of the museum's airplane collection is outdoors puts tremendous wear on the aircraft.
"Aluminum does deteriorate. It does corrode," Dr. Leiser said. "That's why aluminum really needs to be painted because eventually, you can put your finger right through it."
Moisture rising from the dew on the grass contributes to the breakdown of the aluminum, he added.
"Moisture is a factor," Dr. Leiser said. "Birds are a factor. The droppings are highly corrosive and difficult to scrub off. Birds love to nest out here ... sun rays going into the cockpit (are also a contributor)."
Wind, Sergeant Juran added, slows the restoration process.
"It's an absolute killer," he said. "This, to me, has been one of the windiest springs and summers since I've been out here. It's just crippling. It shuts me down. I have to find days when the winds are very, very low, and then I've got to jump out there and go to town."
Another concern in addition to location and Mother Nature is the building itself. The structure housing the museum - once the base commissary - dates back to the 1950s.
"It's slowly but surely falling down around our ears," Dr. Leiser said. "The cement walls are OK, but the plumbing and wiring leave a lot to be desired."
These are a few of the reasons Dr. Leiser said the museum has spent years trying to relocate.
While some concepts would place the museum outside the base's gates, one plan moves the facility closer to the Travis Avenue/Air Base Parkway gate, allowing civilians to visit the museum without needing to pass through security first.
"Ideally, we'd be on the edge of the base and fenced off so you could have direct public access," Dr. Leiser said.
Regardless of what happens, Dr. Leiser and Sergeant Juran said it is a slow process. Environmental, security and planning concerns all affect the possible move.
Moving aircraft indoors would be ideal with a new facility as it would better preserve them, Dr. Leiser said.
"That's really, in the long run, the best way to preserve them," he said. "And the cheapest. It's a lot of money up front, but in the long run, you'll get it all back."
In addition to the airplane collection and numerous indoor exhibitions, including the recently restored "Hound Dog" missile, Dr. Leiser said the museum is available for group functions, retirements, promotion parties, pot lucks, wedding anniversaries and more.
Sergeant Juran said he hopes that wherever it is located or whatever happens, people see what a valuable resource the museum is.
"The museum is not a place where artifacts and things collect dust and get dirty, it, rather, should be a vibrant part of the community," Sergeant Juran said.
For more information, call the museum at 424-5605 or visit www.travisairmuseum.org