March 07, 2007 Edition

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WR Airport popular
place for tours


Harold Johnson, president of the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum Board, gives a tour of the museum to students of St. Paul's Catholic School in Pocahontas. Tours are given to a variety of different groups each year.
TD Photo ~ Kemberly Roberts

Kemberly Roberts
TD Intern

Each year, many groups and organizations take the opportunity to tour the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport.

According to Harold Johnson, president of the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum, the airport hosts a number of groups including church groups, school groups, senior citizen groups, retirees, tour groups and businesses.

The free tour takes place in the museum, library, research area and surrounding areas of Swindle Field, which, according to Johnson, hosted one of the largest gatherings of planes ever in the history of the world.

Johnson said that time spent in the museum is 45 minutes to an hour, and visitors also view a video of the airfield, filmed in 1945.

Johnson said that if a bus is available, groups are broken up into sections and given a bus tour of the airfield and surrounding area.

Visitors view numerous World War II artifacts, photographs from different time periods, medals and awards of veterans and airport supplies.

According to Johnson, the museum contains many photos, including ones of construction, buildings, crash scenes, civilians and students of the flying school, as well as photos of various locations in Lawrence County, such as school buildings, offices and restaurants.

Guests can also view artifacts of WWII, such as oxygen tanks, newspapers, radios, goggles, first aid kits, love letters, maps and an actual cockpit of a VT13 plane. Also on display are scale models of airplanes and a half-scale model of a helicopter.

Biographies of the flying school's students and instructors are also on display, in addition to photographs taken after the war when war-birds were at the airport for the scrapping and salvage operation.

According to Johnson, groups usually visit the gift shop and eat lunch at the Parachute Inn, which is located near the airport and features a dining area inside an actual 737 jet airplane.

Johnson said that visitors seem to enjoy all aspects of the tour.

"They enjoy the VT13 cockpit, the fire trucks and the photos," he said. "They can't believe there were so many planes in Walnut Ridge."

Johnson said that there are many benefits in visiting the museum.

"If you aren't currently aware of the history of the airfield, you will learn a lot about the airfield and WWII," he said. "It makes folks aware of the sacrifices that their relatives made. It also makes them aware of the patriotism that existed back then and how everyone pulled together as a nation. They also learn about the hardships that everyone endured during that time."

Johnson also said that the airport currently hosts a Veterans' Monday Morning Coffee Break from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Veterans of all wars are invited, and free coffee and donuts are served.

Johnson further stated that the airport is always seeking volunteers for tour guides, research, museum organization, library work, video editing, maintenance and other duties at the airport.

"We need lots of help," he said. "We can always use volunteers."

For more information or to schedule a tour of the airport, contact Johnson at 1-800-584-5575 or Judy Wilson at 886-6748.

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