Moving closer from dream to reality, the former Carolinas Aviation Museum announced it will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for its new 105,000-square-foot facility adjacent to Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 27. City, county and state officials are expected to be on hand as plans are revealed for the new museum, intended to be a high-profile cultural tourism attraction and educational resource that will boost economic opportunity, especially on Charlotte’s disadvantaged west side.
The museum’s transformational vision is being supported by a strong public-private partnership that includes generous individuals, corporations, foundations and public funding that recognizes the potential impact of the reimagined museum, fitting for the First In Flight state.
The future facility will be renamed in honor of Capt. C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely in New York City’s Hudson River in 2009, a remarkable feat known as the Miracle on the Hudson – the actual plane is the museum’s featured exhibit. With over 45 historic aircraft, the multi-building campus will also include flight simulators, immersive multimedia, interactive exhibits and STEM education programs.
“It’s extremely uplifting to have so much momentum, buoyed by the generous public and private support for our mission of improving lives and economic opportunities through the innovative and expanding field of aviation,” said Stephen Saucier, president of the Carolinas Aviation Museum. “For centuries humans dreamed of flying, and now this museum will utilize the wonder of flight to inspire the next generation into the STEM fields and to celebrate our state’s growing aviation and aerospace industries.”
To fund the project, the museum has been conducting the Lift Off Capital Campaign, the largest campaign in the museum’s 30-year history. Currently the museum has raised more than $27 million of the approximately $30 million anticipated cost, including millions in contributions from private donors such as Honeywell ($1.5 million), Red Ventures ($1.5 million) and several other individuals, organizations and foundations.
Public support has come in the form of a $10 million appropriation from the general fund of the state of North Carolina’s 2022-2023 budget, thanks to a bill sponsored by state representatives John R. Bradford III (R-Mecklenburg County), Terry Brown (D-Mecklenburg County), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln County) and David Willis (R-Union County); a $3 million appropriation for Reducing Educational Attainment Gaps as part of Mecklenburg County’s fiscal year 2023 budget; and a $5 million matching grant from Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the City of Charlotte’s non-taxpayer fund.
“It is incredibly gratifying to see how people and organizations from virtually every segment of this community – individuals, corporations, government, educators – have rallied around the museum’s exciting new vision,” said Marc Oken, board and campaign chair for the Carolinas Aviation Museum. “Clearly they see the impact this facility and its innovative programs will have, returning tremendous value for the investments being made.”
The new museum is being developed in concert with Charlotte Douglas International Airport and will be included as part of an initiative spearheaded by UNC Charlotte known as the Charlotte Aviation Innovation and Research (AIR) Institute. The collaboration will leverage the airport as a “living laboratory” to propel workforce development, economic growth, transformative research and social mobility.
“This new facility and the museum’s new focus on workforce development creates a future vision that can create and broaden critical workforce development efforts to many in our community, including those historically underserved,” said Charlotte Douglas Chief Executive Officer Haley Gentry. “Our continued success as a city, county and state depends on innovative collaboration across sectors – this new museum will help make those connections.”
Along with the airport, the museum is working with architects Progressive AE and exhibit designers Freeman Ryan Design to develop the new campus, which will be located at the historic W.P.A. Douglas hangar, originally built in 1936-1937 by the Works Progress Administration. It will span three buildings in addition to an outdoor plaza that will house historic aircraft and provide direct viewing of the active runways and taxiways at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
“The museum will be a wonderful new resource for all county residents. It’s exciting to think about the students who will be able to participate in STEM education in ways that the Carolinas Aviation Museum can be uniquely designed to deliver,” said Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio.
Added Rep. Bradford: “Securing $10 million in state funding to support the new aviation museum was a top priority for me this legislative session. I believe the museum will help solidify and showcase our state’s past, present and future commitment to aviation not only within the region but also nationwide.”
Charlotte Douglas is managing site development, which will be conducted in two phases. The new museum is projected to open at the end of 2023 and is expected to draw more than 120,000 visitors annually and connect more than 15,000 students to STEM programming and career development labs.