By Airman 1st Class Zachary Cacicia, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 09, 2014
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- It all started with one wrecked airplane in 1986. Today, the ever-growing Air Mobility Command Museum boasts a collection of 33 aircraft, a staff of more than 170 volunteers and a visitor experience that rivals the most notable museums in the country.
"We started with 20 feet of space in one of the maintenance hangars with an airplane that nobody else wanted," said Mike Leister, AMC Museum director.
The airplane that Mr. Leister is speaking of is the C-47A Skytrain, "Turf and Sport Special," that was considered, beyond salvageable. Found in a dump near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the aircraft, which had been used for target practice, was airlifted by a Pennsylvania National Guard helicopter to Dover AFB. This is the first aircraft that was restored for the newly conceptualized museum that would form here.
Mr. Leister has been with the museum since its conception as the Dover Air Force Base Historical Center on Oct. 13, 1986. It originally was housed in three hangars within the main area of the base and was officially recognized with museum status in 1995 and moved to its current location in 1996. On Feb. 5, 1997, AMC officially named the Dover Air Force Base Museum as the AMC Museum.
The AMC Museum is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to military airlift and air refueling.
"We have 33 airplanes right now," said Mr. Leister. "Twelve of them are either the first, the last or the only one of their kind left in the world."
This includes the only surviving C-54 "M" Skymaster, the only surviving C-124A Globemaster II and the only surviving F-106 Delta Dart that was actually stationed at Dover AFB. In addition, the museum boasts the only C-5A Galaxy on display anywhere in the world.
When it comes to these aircraft, the museum's restoration crew is renowned as one of the best, performing what they can to conserve, preserve and restore the aircraft that are in their care. But there are certain jobs that require help from the base.
"The base aircraft maintenance shops help us with our aircraft," said Mr. Leister. "There are some jobs we can't do in-house. The aircraft maintenance shops are allowed, by regulation, to assist us, and they go out of their way to really help us out."
Base leadership said it is an honor to assist the museum's mission.
"Team Dover is proud to partner with the Air Mobility Command Museum, to preserve the legacy of Air Force global reach," said Col. Michael Grismer, 436th AW commander. "I applaud the museum staff and their dedicated volunteers who have done amazing work preserving the history of airlift and air refueling."
In addition to the numerous aircraft, the museum houses functioning flight simulators, tens-of-thousands of artifacts and a multitude of exhibits that display AMC's, Dover AFB's and the Air Force's history.
Today, the primary mission of the AMC Museum is to collect, preserve and exhibit the artifacts and human stories significant to the development and employment of military airlift and refueling in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force. The second closely aligned mission is to portray the rich history of Dover AFB and its predecessor, the Dover Army Airfield. The museum makes this history available and attractive to both civilian and military personnel, so that in an increasingly complex society, the role of total force, veterans, operations and equipment is understood and appreciated for their value to the nation.
The museum is staffed by more than 170 volunteers, 80 percent of whom are veterans, who work as restorationist, store clerks, tour guides, archivists and a multitude of other jobs that are necessary to the day-to-day operations of the facility. But there are always volunteer opportunities for everyone, especially Team Dover Airmen.
"Our volunteers do virtually everything," said Mr. Leister.
The museum has also been available for countless other events, from car shows to retirement, promotion, award and change-of-command ceremonies.
"Our museum is one of the best," said Dr. Andrew Wackerfuss, 436th Airlift Wing historian. "Bias aside, it is rare to have a museum as well developed as this one is, and particularly, to have one whose collection is so focused on the mission of the base."
According to Mr. Leister, the museum will continue to grow and add aircraft to its collection. This includes tentative plans for a KB-50 Aerial Tanker, a World War II-era C-46 Commando and a Junkers Ju-52, a World War II-era German airlifter. The growth will not end here either, with plans to add a C-17 Globemaster III to the inventory.
"Building this from one wrecked airplane that a few people came to see from time-to-time, to the biggest tourist attraction in central Delaware and being considered the benchmark for field museums in the Air Force has been personally, very fulfilling," said Mr. Leister. "There are individual accomplishments that I'm proud of, but it's the overall accomplishment of the museum that I'm proudest of."
For those wishing to visit, the AMC Museum is located at 1301 Heritage Rd., Dover AFB, Delaware, 19902. Access to the museum is not available from on Dover AFB; the museum has its own entrance gate on Delaware Route 9, exit 91 on Delaware Route 1. Admission and parking are both free; and the museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.