The Western North Carolina Air Museum is a little gem tucked away in some backroads near the Hendersonville Airport. Open three days a week (and on some special occasions), the museum hosts a variety of aircraft that have been donated, purchased, or renovated over the years since 1989. Dedicated to “preserv[ing] the Aviation heritage of North Carolina in general and of Western North Carolina in particular,” the museum, with a helpful handful of volunteer staff, aid and informs the public on this often overlooked aspect of Southern history – flight.
One airplane which stands out from the rest (and there are plenty to grab one’s attention) is the 1930 Curtiss Robin, on loan from its owner. The Curtiss might best be known for being the airplane two Mississippians in 1935 used to create the world record for longest continuous time aloft. The “Flying Keys,” as they were called, flew their own Curtiss, the Ole Miss, for 27 days over Meridian, Mississippi. Seeing the type aircraft up close, one sees how daring was their feat.
For the WWI buffs, the museum has several replicas of warplanes from the era that gave us the dogfight. These include replicas of a 1915 Nieuport 11, a 1915 Morane-Saulnier, a 1915 Sopwith Baby, a 1917 Curtiss Jenny, and a 1917 SE-5a.
Several airplanes in the museum are old kit-planes, manufactured in the post-Great War era for the adventurous man. The 1928 Heath Parasol, much like the lauded Pietenpol, was one such monoplane that hobbyists could craft in their garages with minimum equipment. As the museum explains, “The only tools necessary to assemble one of the kits were a pair of small pliers, screwdriver, hacksaw (with plenty of blades), hammer, small hand drill, chisel, center punch, file and drill.” Similarly, the museum possesses a 1958 Corbin Junior Ace – a more modern rendition of the kit plane.
There are many other unique airplanes to inspect, including a one-of-a-kind 1977 Parker Air Racer, a 1946 Fairchild, and several old cubs. But we’ll end our journey with the North-Carolina crafted Benson B-8M Gyrocopter, manufactured by the Raleigh-based Benson Aircraft Corporation from 1955 to 1987.
It’s important to remember that the South has a strong – possibly the strongest – claim to being the cradle of aviation in the United States and the world. From Delta’s cropdusting roots in Texas, to the Wrights Brothers’ first flight in North Carolina (and first flight school in Alabama), Dixie is full of sky-dash and daring. If you’re in the Asheville/Hendersonville area, drop in and give the place a perusal. You won’t be disappointed.