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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
The 1921 photo shows a dog with a parachute on its back, lazing happily on the ground at Chanute Field — Bing the fox terrier, one of the first military dogs to parachute from an airplane.
Another display, in May 1919, advertises the upcoming Great Flying Circus on Memorial Day at Chanute. It promises “sham battles in the air, sensational maneuvers in the clouds, night bombing and dozens of other stirring stunts and features by skilled flyers in Uncle Sam’s service.”
Organizers were making plans for thousands to visit Rantoul for the flying circus “from all parts of Illinois” and parts of Indiana.
Those are two of the entries in the recently completed timeline at Chanute Air Museum that features some of the rich history of what was Chanute.
As the economic health of the air museum steadily improves, employees and a solid core of volunteers continue to add to the array of attractions at the museum.
A DC-9 flight simulator has been added, and restoration of a vintage World War II-era P-51 fighter plane is nearing completion.
The Chanute timeline, a fixture at the museum for years, has been completely redone to include new displays, more vibrant art work and greater protection against the elements.
The old timeline had been showing its age.
It was “looking really bad,” Curator Mark Hanson said.
Part of the problem contributing to the old timeline’s condition was a leaking roof and ultraviolet light to which it was exposed.
“Things were coming off the wall,” Hanson said. “It was fading. There was water damage.”
Hanson and volunteers have spent hundreds of hours on the new timeline — cleaning it up, replacing many of the old photos and making it more “aesthetically pleasing,” he said.
The project included stripping everything off of the wall, which was resurfaced with plaster and then repainted. Then, rather than mounting anything directly on the wall as the old timeline was, the display was panelized.
Sixteen 4-by-4 panels were mounted.
Now, Hanson said, “If we have a horrible roof leak we can remove all the panels in (only a few minutes).”
The previous images, the majority of which were printed on an ink jet printer and were susceptible to water and UV light, were replaced with more vivid, longer-lasting images from a laser printer
“We also decided we needed to have some more interpretation,” Hanson said. “So we have more interpretive panels for each decade of Chanute’s history so visitors can get more familiar with what was going on.”
Since the timeline was starting from scratch, those involved wanted to use as many new images as possible. Hanson and three volunteers — Darlene DuFrain, Jim Eldridge and Martha Diehl — spent close to 200 hours just selecting the images. DuFrain also scanned all of the images to archive-quality standards. Other volunteers were Randolph Monroe and Don Ross.
The Rev. Jeffray Greene did all of the fabrication for the project.
All of the images will be catalogued “so that all the research we did” will be preserved, Hanson said.
The goal throughout was to “do good museum work. That was kind of my catchword throughout this whole process. I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” Hanson said.
The air museum will be announcing soon the completion of restoration of the P-51H fighter — one of only seven in existence.
A ceremony will be scheduled to announce completion of the project.
A hands-on addition is the DC-9 flight simulator.
The simulator, which was donated by Frasca International, Urbana, is so big that “We kind of struggled what to do with it,” Hanson said.
The flight simulator was backed up to a door into the air museum’s flight simulator room, and an entranceway was fabricated.
It is open to the public only when supervision is available.
“When we can have supervision, this is an object we can actually let kids get in to experience what a simulator looks like, what that whole jet cockpit feels like,” Hanson said.
DC-9s were used as regional jetliners, according to Hanson. The military uses them for VIP transport.
“I think some of them are like aerial ambulances,” he said. “They’ve been used for all kinds of things.”
The primary volunteers assisting with the project were Greene, Ross, Don Talleur, Kenny Bro and Rol Barger.
Hanson estimated staff and volunteers spent 150-200 hours on the project, including fabricating the entranceway into the simulation room.
“There was a lot of work getting it actually put in place up against the doorway and making sure that that’s stable and not going to slide around,” Hanson said, adding that two volunteers went through the simulator with a fine tooth comb, cleaning everything and undertaking a safety check.
Eldridge said a private collector, Gerald Hoffman, has also donated several model airplane kits to the museum. Hoffman had an interest in World War I-era planes.
Some of the kits are quite rare, Eldridge said. All of the kits will be for sale.
The additions at the air museum will be featured at the Thanksgiving Family Fun Days. (See related article.)
THANKSGIVING FAMILY FUN DAYS THIS WEEKEND AT MUSEUM
Chanute Air Museum, 1011 Pacesetter Drive, Rantoul, will host Thanksgiving Family Fun Days from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 23 and 24.
There will be a reduced admission charge. Children 4 and under get in free.
The museum’s newly revamped Chanute timeline, the new DC-9 flight simulator and the expanded gift shop will be featured.
Fun Days will include family-friendly activities from noon-3 p.m., including a large inflatable, flying games on Wii, paper airplane folding, coloring pages and face painting. There will also be model airplane building for an additional fee.
The Family Fun Days event is one of the activities planned by the museum to boost attendance during the late fall-winter season when turnout typically wanes.
Robin Calhoon, the museum’s new event coordinator, said she hopes to hold several other promotions to bring in people.
One includes business weekends January-March. Each week a different business will be featured, and employees can visit the museum at a reduced rate.
Calhoon also hopes to get one of the remaining Tuskegee Airmen to come to the museum.
The grounds crew for the Tuskegee Airmen trained at Chanute during World War II.
Calhoon said the Red Tail Squadron — named for the Airmen — has a touring educational program.
“I’d like to invite anyone who was involved with the Airmen to come,” Calhoon said.
The event coordinator said she also hopes to host a program with Wings and Slots, a Champaign business that builds motorized flying machines.
She said the company approached the air museum about flying machines at the Rantoul Airport and touring the museum.
“They came to us because of our aviation status here at the airport,” Calhoon said. “They can actually fly down here.”
Calhoon said she is also working to get bus trips and school groups to come to the museum.
She said the museum is doing well financially, and improvements are ongoing.
“It’s exciting to be a part of,” Calhoon said.