WARNER ROBINS -- For the first time in its 29-year history, the Museum of Aviation is downsizing.
The museum is getting rid of 29 planes and three missiles, which is about a third of its total collection.
Museum Director Ken Emery said the move is largely due to Air Force personnel cuts in 2011 that eliminated eight civilian positions at the museum, most of whom were restoration specialists.
The museum doesnt have enough personnel to properly maintain the aircraft, especially those outdoors, Emery said.
Weve only been growing since we started, Emery said last week as he showed some of the planes slated for removal. This is really the first time weve had to make real decisions on downsizing the collection to preserve quality versus quantity.
Some of the planes to be removed may not be missed much, but others certainly will. Probably the most notable one is the B-52 Stratofortress, a Cold War icon and one of the largest planes at the museum.
From a distance, the plane appears to be in good shape. But Emery showed places underneath where the hull has rusted through. Some of the spots are covered by painted-over tape.
Repairing such a large plane would be very expensive, Emery said, and it would continue to take many man-hours annually to maintain. Ultimately, he added, no plane left outdoors is going to last indefinitely.
He said the B-52 is the plane he most hates to see go, but there wasnt much choice.
The airplane is slowly deteriorating to the point that it is literally rusting away, he said. Even if I were to invest a whole lot of money and put it in good condition, its still sitting outside.
Another notable plane on the chopping block is the EC-135 Stratotanker. The large, white plane near Russell Parkway looks like a passenger jet. The EC-135 is an aerial refueler, but the one at the museum was modified and served as Gen. Norman Schwartzkopfs plane as he conducted Desert Storm.
Some of the planes have been slated to be scrapped, some are being sent to private museums, while others are being sent to the Air Forces storage facility in Arizona.
The National Museum of the Air Force determines the fate of the aircraft, and that hasnt been decided for about half the planes on the list.
For those headed for a private museum, that museum is paying the cost of the disassembly and transport. Thats why large planes like the B-52 and EC-135 are being scrapped. The cost of moving those would be too much for most any museum.
Eight of the planes and one missile already are gone, and some others are being disassembled. Emery expects it will take about a year before all of the planes on the list are removed.
The B-52 is expected to be removed late this year. A specialized machine will be used to tear it apart and crush it.
Some of the planes to be removed are in hangars. While those planes do not require maintenance, Emery said it will free up space to move other planes indoors that the museum considers more significant.
The upside of it all, he said, is that the museum will be in a better position to acquire prized aircraft. The museum has long sought to get a B-17 bomber, the famed World War II plane known as the Flying Fortress. By freeing up hangar space and ensuring the collection is not too big for the staff to maintain, Emery hopes the National Museum of the Air Force gives it a B-17. The Air Force has 16 B-17s at its museums nationwide, and nine of those are outdoors. The Museum of Aviation has argued, unsuccessfully so far, that one of those outside should be moved here.
Houston County Commissioner Tom McMichael, who serves on the museum board, said he believes downsizing is the right move and will benefit the museum in the long run.
He said the museum had two planes of the same model in some cases.
One of the things we are having to do is be a little more efficient, he said. It was kind of win-win. There were a lot of things we overstocked.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.