By Lance Gurwell
At most museums, it’s strictly hands off. But at the new Air Services Museum in Colorado Springs, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, visitors are encouraged to become volunteers, and for volunteers, it’s hands-on.
The Air Services Museum is the brainchild of former Canadian military officer Roy Thompson, 70, who served as director of protocol at NORAD in Colorado Springs near the end of his active duty career. In 1962, he had the honor of becoming the first Canadian to command an operational space unit when he was assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force Satellite Tracking Unit.
His military career included time in the Canadian Navy. Thompson was instrumental in starting the Maritime Command Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, dedicated to preserving the heritage and history of naval and air forces in the Maritimes.
Long retired, the energetic former officer has played the major role in assembling the Colorado Springs museum. The city is internationally important when it comes to aviation and space. Many of the nation’s future combat aviators will come from the Air Force Academy north of town, Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD, along with Schriever Air Force Base and the new Northern Command, which perform duties 24-7 that are invaluable in protecting the safety of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Thompson has big plans for the museum.
“Our purpose is to preserve the history of individual American achievers and civil aviation,” Thompson said. “There are no such museums worldwide.”
Among its more interesting displays are uniforms and hats worn by airline employees in the 1950s and 1960s; some of those airlines are no longer in business. Interestingly, Thompson has been collecting a lot of this memorabilia himself over the years, and he graciously loaned much of it to the museum. Additionally, careful searching turned up beautiful glass cases for the uniforms and hats, as well as the models.
The museum is unique in that a large percentage of its display items consist of detailed plastic models—the kind that generations of kids anxiously assemble for their own collections.
“However, these models are carefully assembled and painted by skilled model builders,” said Tom Grossman, director of the museum’s model program section. “It’s extremely important that these models be correct to the tiniest detail.”
In fact, he built some of the models himself. Grossman and about 50 other invitees and VIPs got a sneak preview the day before the museum opened to the public in May.
At the event, Colorado Springs City Councilmember Bernie Herpin read a proclamation recognizing the museum as an important part of the community. Councilman Tom Gallagher also attended the open house and praised Thompson and his cadre of volunteers for their efforts at converting an empty warehouse into a spiffy museum in a short time.
In need of more volunteers, Thompson extended an invitation to visitors.
“We’re looking for the young and the not-so-young; we want to be an integral part of the community,” Thompson said. “If we do not preserve our civil aviation heritage now, no one will and much will be lost.”
Terry Sullivan, president and CEO of Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak (also known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau), said the museum would grow to become a big asset to the city.
“It will take a while for the community to realize the museum is open, but if Roy is able to get the word spread around the community, awareness will grow,” said Sullivan.
The nonprofit museum is located at 425A Ease Fillmore Street, in Colorado Springs. For more information, call 719-633-1323 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.