Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aviation Museum in Amarillo, Texas?

Reading the website of - came across an editorial asking for serious discussion of an aviation museum.

I take the liberty of reproducing it here:

An exhibit saluting an important part of the Panhandle's history just might be ready to take wing.

It would be an aviation museum dedicated to honoring the Age of Flight and the role it has played in the development of the Texas Panhandle.

It's the brainchild of the Texas Air & Space Museum board, veterans of the English Field Air & Space Museum that used to occupy space adjacent to what would become Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

The discussion has begun and it should continue.

Think of what aviation has brought to this region.

Amarillo was home to a Strategic Air Command base until the late 1960s. Its closure and the hard feelings it produced - not to mention the devastating impact it had on our economy - remain topics of water-cooler discussion to this day.

Bell Helicopter had a huge assembly plant nearby before closing after the end of the Vietnam War; Bell has returned in a big way with its V-22 Osprey and helicopter assemby operation next to AMA.

Amarillo is home to two shuttle astronauts, the late Rick Husband and Paul Lockhart; in addition, Wheeler is the birthplace of Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon as a member of the Apollo 12 lunar-landing mission, and who also flew aboard Skylab on a long-term earth-orbit mission in the 1970s.

Florene Miller Watson of Borger was one of the pioneering female aviators during World War II.

This region has plenty of museum expertise upon which organizers can draw. The American Quarter Horse and the Panhandle-Plains Historical museums both attract thousands of visitors annually. It wouldn't hurt one bit to ask those folks: How do you do it?

An aviation museum - at a highly visible site - is a good fit for Amarillo.

Let us proceed.

Who was Florene Miller Watson?

From the WASP Page dedicated to her:

Florene Miller Watson was born on December 7, 1920, in San Angelo, Texas. She became fascinated with planes at age 8 and by age 19 had finished flight school and completed her first solo flight.

Watson received her instructor's rating and was teaching men to fly in the War Training Program in Odessa and Lubbock, Texas when WWII began. Watson turned 21 on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and soon afterward she and her younger brother volunteered for Army service.

The Army was searching for 50 women with 500 hours of flying time to become aircraft, cargo and troop ferriers. This was double the standard for men who only needed 250 hours to qualify to be Army pilots. Watson was one of only 25 who qualified for the original Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, later known as the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). These women averaged 1,100 hours flying time. In January, 1943, she was made Commanding Officer over the WASPs stationed at Love Field, Dallas, Texas. Watson also served as a test pilot, and in 1944 tested radar equipment before its general use in the war. By the time the war was over, Watson had flown every kind of aircraft used by the Air Corp.

Considered civilians by the military, though the women held officer status, the women were held to higher qualifying standards than men, and operated under extreme pressure to succeed. Some 1,000 women pilots were trained by the military for service in the Ferrying Division, and 38 women were killed during their service to the war. It took 33 years for the women pilots of World War II to be militarized, and in September 1992, Watson traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive an award recognizing the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. She was the National Chaplain for many years of the WASPs WWII.

After the War, Watson earned her Master's Degree in Business Administration and taught college for 30 years before retiring. Married for over 50 years, Florene and Chris Watson have two daughters and four grandchildren and continue to live in Borger, Texas. Chris Watson was a member of the "Oil Patch Warriors," an American oil drilling crew that drilled for oil for Great Britain in Sherwood Forest during WWII. In one year they drilled 94 producing wells, increasing Great Britian's oil production by more than 3,000 barrels a day.

Florene continues to serve in her church and community. She maintains close ties to aviation with memberships in the Texas Aviation Historical Society, the Ninety-Nines, the Commemorative Air Force (Confederate), the Women's Military Aviators and the Women's Airforce Service Pilots WWII.

She has been featured in a number of magazines and books with photos and write-ups. A number of television interviews, programs on aviation, plus video and audio histories to be used by universities and college archives departments as well as aviation museums. She was also featured in the nationally-broadcasted TV documentary Women of Courage explaining the role of women pilots of WWII---The Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Watson has been honored with Distinguished Flying Corps Membership in the Kritser Aviation and Space Museum, Amarillo, Texas, in 1988. Watson was also inducted into the Ninety-Nines International Forest of Friendship, Atchison, Kansas, (Amelia Earhart's Home) for exceptional contributions to aviation, 1995. She was a speaker at the Experimental Aircraft Association's Museum at the 1995 Oshkosh, Wisconsin, International Air Show. Watson was the first woman to be inducted into the Panhandle Veterans Hall of Fame, August 1996. Watson was also honored in a special way as a "Distinguished Veteran" at the Air Force Military Ball and accompanying activities in Dallas, Texas, March 14-15, 1997.

As Chaplain of the WASP organization, she was on the program with Attorney General Janet Reno to dedicate a bronze statue representing the WASP that was placed in the Honor Court of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, September 19, 1997. Watson was a special guest of General Paul Tibbets who was honored by the Confederate Air Force in Midland, Texas, October 2-5, 1997. General Tibbets was in charge of the atom bomb project of WWII and flew the B-29 Inola Gay to drop the first bomb on Japan, thus ending WWII. Watson attended the 3-day dedication ceremonies for the Women's Military Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., October 16-17, 1997. She was also a guest of General Paul Tibbets and his three Enola Gay crew members at the Iwo Jima Reunion in Wichita Falls, Texas, February 20-25, 1998. Note: The bombardier on the Enola Gay, Major Thomas W. Ferebee, was stationed at Ardmore Army Air Field from June through September 1944 before transferring to Wendover Field, Utah and becoming part of the Enola Gay crew. The "Bock's Car" bombardier, Captain Kermit K. Beahan, was also stationed at Ardmore, 1943-44.

Watson was invited to be a member of the Gathering of Eagles organization of distinguished aviation pioneers in June 2001. This elite program was organized in 1982. The 2001 program, the 20th Gathering of Eagles, was titled "Legends and Leaders of Aerospace" and honored 16 civilian and military aviation leaders. Florene was also recognized for her achievements at the 2002, 2003 and 2005 "gatherings."

Another recognition for Watson was the bestowing of the Medal of Honor from the national society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). This honor is bestowed on worthy recipients known "to have done something outstanding" to show their commitment to God, Home and Country. The medal was presented December 9, 2001 in her hometown, Borger, Texas. The Borger "Josiah Bartlett Chapter" of the DAR sponsored Watson.

In addition, the Air Force Association's, Lifetime Achievement Award, its highest honor, was also presented to Watson. Reagan County, Texas, where she grew up, renamed its airport in her honor and the International Women in Aviation inducted Florene to its prestigious Pioneer Hall of Fame.

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