WARNER ROBINS -- A game of musical airplanes is in progress at the Museum of Aviation.
As a result of downsizing that began last year, some of the remaining aircraft have moved to more prominent locations, and others that were outside are now in hangars. New exhibits also have been added, and others are being planned.
The end result, said museum Director Ken Emery, is that the downsizing has actually led to many improvements.
Its painful to let things go that you would rather not, Emery said as he showed some of the changes Thursday, but this has allowed us to focus on whats left.
As a result of budget cutbacks, the museum announced last year it was getting rid of 32 aircraft. That is about a third of its total collection and was the first time the museum has downsized.
About half of those aircraft have been relocated to other museums, a couple have been scrapped and the others are still around.
One of the most notable ones on the cut list is the B-52 bomber, a Cold War icon and one of the most recognizable planes at the museum. However, it may be around for a while more.
The plane is gradually rusting away and needs major restoration, but Emery said it still looks good. He said theres no need to dispose of it immediately.
Ideally, he would like to add another hangar for a B-52 and other large planes still outside. The museum also is interested in getting a replacement B-52 just being retired from service, so it will be in better condition.
We are trying to preserve Air Force heritage for 100 years, Emery said. I cant do that if its sitting outside. It just rusts away.
Also slated to be scrapped is a modified EC-135 Stratotanker that was Gen. Norman Schwarzkopfs plane as he conducted Desert Storm. That plane, which had been prominently displayed near Russell Parkway, has been moved to the rear of the museum.
In its spot the museum moved a C-130 that has one of the most interesting histories among the collection. In 1964 it was used in an operation to rescue hostages in Congo.
To the C-130s former spot the museum has moved its C-124, a giant aircraft that had been in the rear of the museum grounds and was repainted last year. It can now be seen from Russell Parkway and Ga. 247.
Schwarzkopfs plane is expected to be scrapped later this year, but part of it will be salvaged and may make for an even more interesting exhibit than the plane itself. The plan is to save the cockpit, along with the executive seating, and set up an exhibit that visitors will be able to enter.
A Vietnam-era H1-Huey helicopter that had been on the cut list was salvaged through a similar plan, and it has turned into a popular exhibit. The cockpit of the chopper now sits at the entrance of Hangar One, and visitors can climb into it.
Hangar One has been a focus of much work that has taken place in recent months. It had been a hodge-podge of aircraft, but the museum has completed plans to dedicate it entirely to the Vietnam War.
One of the most notable changes is the addition of an F-4 fighter that had been outside. Two red stars on the plane signify that it shot down two MiG-17 fighters.
Planes that are inside will last almost indefinitely, Emery said, while any plane outside will ultimately corrode, no matter how much the museum maintainers do to protect it.
Once its inside, we have to do very little to it, Emery said.
The museum has also added more mannequins to Hangar One, depicting airmen working around the planes as they would have in Vietnam.
Museum curator Mike Rowland said Vietnam veterans who have seen Hangar One lately have appreciated the new focus.
They are glad to see that we are making the effort to preserve the aircraft from the war, he said. Its an opportunity to show family and friends what they did.
Many other changes also are in the works for the museum, including redoing the front entrance of the Century of Flight Hangar to recognize various major units at Robins Air Force Base.
In addition, the museum is working on restoring an F-100 fighter that will become the focal point of Hangar One. The plane was flown by retired Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard in Vietnam. Goddard, a former commander at Robins, was awarded the Silver Star for one of the 180 combat missions he flew in the plane. The restoration is expected to take about another year.