Things barely got off the ground last year at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville, but officials there are hopeful that 2021 will be a much different story.
“We wanted to be extra cautious last year so we only opened up in the late summer into the early fall,” said Kevin Millington, a past president who now coordinates the educational programming at ESAM.
“When the bad weather started we had to close again. With our inability to host large groups indoors and our high utility costs, we couldn’t stay open.”
Like every other museum throughout the country in 2020, ESAM was shut down for much of the year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. On Friday, however, the facility, just off Route 50 next to the Schenectady County Airport and Sam Stratton Air National Guard Base, will open up for the first time since September.
Over the past six months, however, Millington and the ESAM staff have been busy making improvements to the complex, which back during World War II served as the General Electric Flight Test Center.
“We took this opportunity to work on some ongoing projects, including installation of our huge replica of the Concorde,” said Millington. “That’s been progressing very well and people have been able to look at it. It is assembled. What we’re hoping to do sometime this spring or summer is to put it on three pylons right out in front of the museum facing Route 50. It will be welcoming all of our visitors.”
The real Concorde, originally flown by British Overseas Airway and Air France, came to the Schenectady County Airport in August of 1987. The plane first flew in 1969 and was in commercial operation between 1976 and 2003.
It came with the label of being the first transcontinental supersonic passenger jet, but its popularity began to wane after other manufacturers started building bigger planes. Also, tragic events such as the 2000 Concorde crash in Paris that killed 109 people added to its demise, as well as the general decline in flying following the terrorists attack of 9/11.
The replica, built in the 1990s, was donated to the Cradle of Aviation Museum of Long Island almost 20 years ago. Weighing about 12 tons and measuring around 100 feet, it is half the size of the airplane itself.
In May of 2017, ESAM announced it had acquired the replica and since then has been at work reassembling it.
“We will be initiating a fundraising effort to secure the museum in 2021, once the Concorde is installed in front of the hangar facing Route 50,” said ESAM President Peter Russo. “Since the virus, the museum, as well as other businesses, has not been able to generate any income and is at a loss, so the need to raise funds is necessary.”
Along with the model of the Concorde, ESAM has plenty of real airplanes on display. One of the newer additions to the museum is the Hawker GR-1, also known as the Harrier. Donated to ESAM by AVMATS Corporation in St. Louis, it was used as a prototype for the United States Marine Corp.
Another relatively new arrival is the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
“The Harrier is a light-attack bomber, a very unique plane, and the C-130 Hercules, which was going to be used for the rescues of the Iranian hostages in 1981, is also a very unique plane,” said Millington. “The mission was called Credible Sport, and with the Hercules you had the ability for short take-offs, and they were planning on landing it on the soccer field across the street from the U.S. Embassy. It had 30 rockets and plenty of aero-dynamic improvements but they never had to use it because the hostages were released. There were two prototypes built and one crashed during testing. We have the other one.”
Along with its collection of planes, ESAM has a number of exhibits in the museum, an aviation library available to the public, and a large model of the aircraft carrier, Akagi, used in the 1970 film “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which depicted the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“We have been busy building new exhibits, improving the ones we already have, and we will have two new hands-on exhibits for children,” said Russo.
Along with regular visitation to ESAM, Millington is looking forward to doing more in the way of educational programming.
“We hope to be able to gradually increase our group tours and our educational programs,” he said. “We did have some classes last summer, mostly for kids between 9 and 14, and I thought it went very well. We did it all outside, stayed six feet apart, and the class size was small, probably around a half dozen kids. We’re definitely hoping we can do more of that this summer.”
Millington is convinced that once the replica of the Concorde is out front, it should catch the public eye and attract many news visitors to ESAM.
“Our volunteers have completed the reassembly and have repainted the Concorde,” he said. “Once it’s out front, resting on those three pylons with the nose tilted up, it’s quite something to see. It’s a spectacular plane.”
While ESAM will be closed this Sunday for Easter, it will be open every Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The museum hopes to extend those hours this summer. For more information visit www.esam.org.