The Sun News

Q&A with Mike Rowland, curator at the Museum of Aviation

Mike Rowland
Mike Rowland Special to The Sun News

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Curator, Museum of Aviation

Q: What do you consider the most unusual item at the Museum of Aviation?

A: Interesting question. Maybe it’s something from the 483rd Bombardment Group exhibit — they had this small, little uniform. Turns out there was a duck mascot they made a little uniform for. Who knew? Definitely a bit unusual.

Q: The rarest?

A: First let me say this, you have to remember we’re not the Smithsonian or the official Air Force Museum where the rarest items will be. Still, we have truly neat and unique items on exhibit and others still stored. What comes to mind is one not exhibited yet: a uniform that belonged to the late Roland Scott, brother of Robert Scott. Roland was also a World War II pilot and flew a B-26 Marauder. Roland led the first B-26 attack on northwest Europe in 1943, and he and his crew realized it was a big deal. They decided they’d wear dress uniforms with dress coats and ties and that sort of thing. They were badly shot up on the mission and Roland was wounded. They made it back and got his uniform cut off to treat him. There are bullet holes and blood stains, and it’s a very powerful way for people to connect to the dangers of combat. I very much look forward to getting it displayed, being sensitive to what it is.

Q: Most valuable?

A: Monetary value doesn’t really play into what I do. I don’t research what collectors would give or street value. I don’t have training in that. But there are many kinds of value, and I look at value as how an item tells us about the men and women of the Air Force, their stories, their experience. Everything here is valuable but how valuable is in the eye of the beholder. I think of a VC-140 JetStar aircraft we have, a personal VIP transport. It was built in Georgia and assigned to vice president (Lyndon) Johnson and used for shorter trips like to his Texas ranch. It’s probably the most significant Vietnam era aircraft we have. Who knows what high level conversations were had and decisions made in that plane? It’s a slow process and it’s another of the planes we have to have tucked away due to space issues.

Q: What’s the most important display at the museum?

A: Again, my own value judgement, but I’d say the exhibit of the late Gen. Robert L. Scott: a local fellow who dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot as a boy, succeeded, became an ace and did many remarkable things including becoming an author and certainly helping the museum. It’s a wonderful little window into a very complicated man.

Q: What’s impressed you most about the museum as it’s developed?

A: I’ll answer that a couple of ways. First, I marvel at the people in the early 1980s who had a vision for a museum, who figuratively drained a swamp and started a museum. Then they grew it into the second largest U.S. Air Force museum. That’s a hard thing. People talk about starting museums but few do.

Q: And second?

A: The wonderful collaboration between the local community and the Air Force. The Air Force couldn’t have done it alone, and the community couldn’t have done it without the Air Force. Together, they did something remarkable. I started here in 2004 long after it was a large, vibrant museum, and I’ve seen it continue to grow to the present.

Q: Just how do you define a curator’s job?

A: It depends on the museum, but I’d say I’m responsible for the preservation and representation of the collection; for keeping up with what items are, what they mean and how they tell the Air Force story. Plus how best to use them to tell that story. Things are interesting in and of themselves but in the final analysis, they’re just things. What’s really interesting is their connection to people. We’re fortunate to have a collections manager, Bill Paul, who does a superb job of the day-to-day care and feeding of the collection. We’re a small staff and share hats to make sure things are as they should be for the exhibits and visitors.

Q: What makes a good display?

A: There are certainly best practices, but I think it boils down to the fact humans love telling and hearing stories. The museum and displays should be stories presented in a way people enjoy and can learn from. Museums are different in that they focus on tangible artifacts, but they still have to tell good stories. That’s hard to do well. Written words, photographs, artifacts and all the other elements have to work together.

Q: Regarding that, what do you consider one of the museum’s best efforts?

A: I’d say our D-Day exhibit is certainly one of the most successful in that way.

Q: As keeper of artifacts, what has struck you most about Robins Air Force Base’s history?

A: Robins is a really good window into the whole Air Force. Its story is tied closely to World War II but from then on its history involves work on so many types of aircraft and support of so many programs and missions. It’s a remarkable base and though it’s far from places and operations like Vietnam and Desert Storm, it’s been critically involved. Robins’ involvement ranges from maintaining aircraft to doing similar for the Air Force’s vehicles, its small arms and its giant aircraft cannons. From there all the way to electronic warfare and being headquarters for the Air Force Reserve Command. People don’t think about those things but they’re key to the support of airmen worldwide.

Q: It’s a great place to visit anytime, but how does it fare for holiday visitors to the area?

A: We don’t have a specific holiday display, but it’s a tremendous place to visit, especially if you consider how it shows such a big part of what our men and women do involves serving away from home and family during special times like the holidays. That also means families are without fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. An exhibit I’d love to do is on deployment and what it means. It’s something we don’t think enough about.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

Q&A with Mike Rowland

Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Curator, Museum of Aviation

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