By Don Lowe
The Freedom of Flight Museum in Joplin, Missouri, has soared to great heights for nearly a decade, while striving to share consequential space milestones of yesterday, today and tomorrow through several fascinating displays and real-life stories.
Freedom of Flight Museum President Darryl Coit explained one key feature is the aerospace timeline that “depicts the worldwide development of aviation and space through the years. It is important for area visitors to realize the Four-State Area had a significant part in that development.
“We show those accomplishments on our timeline: The first airplane made of aluminum, a critical patent that made the helicopter successful, a device that made aircraft carrier landings possible, rocket engines that sent the first man to the moon, a local astronaut and batteries that have left our solar system.
“If we can show our area citizens, and most importantly, our area youth, what we’ve already achieved locally, then we can stimulate their interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.”
Providing kids historical perspective is pivotal to Coit. “I’m saddened when elementary school students tell me they don’t know who Neil Armstrong was, what Apollo was or who the Wright Brothers were.
“Or, when a young girl tells me her father and mother say girls can’t be pilots. By sharing history with these kids, we open a whole new world to them.”
Another component of this museum is recognizing the men and women who served our country. “Our veteran tributes are a way of connecting veterans with their friends and families. Many times, veterans return from service and never discuss their military experiences with anyone.
“We’ve found there are interesting stories they want to relate. What was the country like? What were the people like? Did you have friends? What was your job? What was training like? These are all good stories.
“Our interviews consist of a veteran interview with the interviewee. The interviewer has researched in advance the time, world situations, units, etc., during when the veteran served.
“These interviews are posted on YouTube where they can be viewed by family and friends anywhere in the world. The stories are always good. They’re a source of good information for area youth that may be interested in a military career.”
As for other key museum happenings, Coit said, “Our STEM activities and presentations provide families with an alternative activity on weekends. They’re a vital part of our mission to create an interest in STEM subjects, which in turn creates interest and participation in our museum.”
Specific to the presentations, Coit said, “They’re generally about important aerospace history. They typically center around current or past aerospace events, people and places. The lectures are vital because they help build an interest in our museum.”
There’s lots more to discover, including the Air and Space Technology Center (ASTC), which is the personal exhibit of museum curator Ernie Trumbly and features a unique collection of instruments, controls, weapons systems, missiles and safety systems.
Additionally, the museum has obtained a part of Allen Shirley’s space exhibit, which showcases the efforts of the United States’ race to the moon and helps to illustrate the great work a local historian put into the collection that contains original items documented with signatures and other proof of authenticity.
“Aerospace history is a big deal in and of itself,” Coit said. “It has changed the way we live, work, fight wars and travel. It has changed the way we dream. Our area has been part of these things, so we must remember what we accomplished and inspire us all to contribute more.”
Coit is thrilled to be involved in the museum. “I’m proud to be part of a group of people who have devoted their time and effort to this project, knowing it will help preserve our local area aerospace accomplishments and encourage and enable our youth to pursue exciting and meaningful careers.”
Freedom of Flight Museum Fast Facts
Where: Joplin Regional Airport, General Aviation Terminal located at 5501 Dennis Weaver Drive, Webb City, Missouri (Note: The airport is within the city limits of Joplin. However, the Webb City Post Office services the facility.)
Mailing Address: 5511A Dennis Weaver Drive, Webb City, MO 64870
Email: [email protected]
Phone Number: 417.553.8130 (please leave a message) or 417.540.2657
Hours of Operation: Thursday and Saturday 2-5 p.m. (or by appointment)
Admission: $2 per adult (12 and under free, starting in March)
Originated: Organized in August 2012, with first exhibits set up in 2014
Original Organizers: Darryl Coit, Darlene Coit, Angie Paige, Mark Tyrrell and Ernie Trumbly with support and encouragement from former Joplin Regional Airport Manager Steve Stockham and his staff
Museum Team: President Darryl Coit, Vice President Angie Paige, Secretary Dianne Hermann, Treasurer Steve Murray, Curator Ernie Trumbly, Director of Communications Darlene Coit and Director of Marketing June Chenot
Future Facility Plans: “We are still in the very early stages of our building project,” Darryl Coit said. “We have partnered with a local engineering firm to determine the right size and features the museum will need to be sustainable. We don’t have a timeline at this point and haven’t begun a major capital campaign yet. Modern aerospace museums are changing the way they display their exhibits. The public now desires interactive displays and hands-on activities. We will incorporate these functions in our museum. We also want to be the one-stop place for aerospace activities. This will include bringing other aerospace groups into our mix of offerings.”