A 47,000-square-foot time machine has opened in Southern Dallas County.
It’s equipped with hundreds of propellers, classrooms, vintage flying aircraft (not static displays), and hundreds of pilots—some of whom even flew during World War II.
Which leads to the question: Is it a time machine, an aviation museum, or a school?
If you ask the folks who run the Commemorative Air Force and the National Aviation Education Center at Dallas Executive Airport, it’s all three.
“I call these aircraft ‘time machines,’ because if you take these 100-year-old guys and you put them next to these airplanes, they’re 35 years old again,” said Hank Coates, president and CEO of the Commemorative Air Force.
Coates presented at the Q2 meeting of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Southern Dallas Task Force.
Since the facility opened to the public in November, thousands of students and adults have passed through it. Yet it’s still a relatively well-kept secret to most of the public. The museum and hangar are open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with the last ticket sold at 3:30 p.m.
World War II storytelling
The Commemorative Air Force staff and its affiliated education center realize they can’t tell every story that needs telling, even with nearly 60,000 square feet of space and 181 historic aircraft at their disposal.
“We chose five stories that would resonate with our community—especially the kids in our community,” said Nancy McGee, vice president of education and the NAEC. The World War II-related stories now being told at the facility include:
- The Tuskegee Airmen, Black men who successfully flew American fighter escorts for bomber raids into Occupied Europe;
- The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), who tested and flew newly built aircraft across the United States, so they could be shipped to the front lines;
- Women (colloquially referred to as “Rosie the Riveter”) who joined assembly lines to build weapons;
- The Aztec Eagles, a squadron of Mexican-American pilots who flew American fighter planes and played an important role in the liberation of Luzon, a Philippine island; and
- The role Texas played in winning the war, especially through its oil production.
Students can ‘see it to be it’
McGee said by telling these key stories, the Commemorative Air Force hopes children will see individuals who look like them, being successful and engaged in civic works.
Course offerings from ‘A is for Aerospace’ for elementary students to the ‘Home Front Experience,’ which uses WWII stories to teach science, math, history, and financial literacy, aim to engage kids.
She added students are taking course offerings that meet state school standards. “A is for Aerospace” is for the elementary level, “Build Guild” is advanced hands-on learning, and “Home Front Experience” uses World War II as a backdrop to teach science, math, history, and financial literacy.
More than 1,500 students from Grand Prairie ISD have attended the facility’s “A is for Aerospace” program this year.
A flying museum
“I never know when I walk into the hangar what’s going to be here,” said McGee, referring to the 30,000-square-foot hangar outside the traditional classroom. On this day, a plane nicknamed “Ike’s Bird” was parked roughly 100 yards away.
Because President Dwight David Eisenhower used the twin-engine plane to shuttle from the White House to his farm in Virginia, it’s known as the world’s smallest Air Force One. Eisenhower, who was a licensed pilot, would periodically fly the plane himself, Coates said. The presidential seal inside the plane is still visible from the plane’s exterior.
Save the date
Because summer is peak air show season, the bulk of the Commemorative Air Force—especially the facilities’ large WWII bombers—is absent from the hangar.
But they’ll be back in time for two major events—the annual Wings Over Dallas Airshow, which is set for November 11 to 13, and the Victory Ball, which is set for February 25, 2023.
“The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra will be here,” McGee said. “We do a big dinner with dancing. It’s a good date night opportunity. And sponsorships are available.”
How to visit the Commemorative Air Force in Dallas
For more information or to visit the CAF Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center, go here.
Here’s a peek at the Dallas Commemorative Air Force collection and air shows.
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