New museum opens to tour aviation heritage

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Entertainment,Travel

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Walk through the front door of the Southern Heritage Foundation Air Museum and step into history.

Wander through the displays of model aircraft, photos of Mississippi pilots and learn some of the state's and the South's aviation past.

Walk in the hangar and gaze at Charlotte's Chariot II, a P-51 Mustang painted to reproduce the fighter flown by Cary Salter of Brandon in World War II, or the Beechcraft Beech 18 executive airplane that flew business executives to appointments long before private jets became popular.

The Southern Heritage Air Foundation Museum held its grand opening over the weekend at the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound, La.

The museum will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and at other times by appointment. The museum is closed on major holidays.

"The inspiration for this museum came from 15 years of interviewing World War II pilots," said Dan Fordice of Vicksburg, Miss., whose hangar houses the museum.

"These men rarely talked about their experiences to their families, and their material from the war was put in boxes. When they died, their families threw the stuff away or sold it on eBay. We're asking people if they have anything form World War II to donate or loan it to us."

"That's where Dan has gotten a lot of the things you see here," said foundation president Steve See. "He bought them on eBay."

The goal of the museum, Fordice said, is to teach people, especially younger generations about the efforts of World War II pilots.

"The kids say 'World War II? What's that?' They don't know," Fordice said. "The next generation doesn't have a clue."

Many of the photos, models and memorabilia in the museum have a story, including the items from Fordice's father, former Gov. Kirk Fordice, who died in 2004.

Stopping in front of a display of pictures and model of a Navy F6F Hellcat fighter, See told the story of St. Clair Bienvenue of Waterproof, La., whose fighter lost its engine in a crash while landing on a carrier deck in heavy seas.

"He said he saw the smoke, and when he heard the voices of the people outside the plane, he knew he was OK," he said.

Looking at the P-51, See pointed toward the Greek letter pi near the plane's tail.

"The plane's crew chief did that," he said. "He had two other planes he cared for that had the letter Y in that spot, and their pilots were shot down. He decided to change the letter in hopes of changing his luck. It was lucky for him, the plane and the pilot."

He called the Beech 18 "the executive jet of the '50s. The plane was very versatile. The Air Corps and Navy both used it for training."

Fordice said the decision to open the museum to the public had been planned for some time.

"This is a work in progress, so we decided to go on and open it," he said. "We're going to continue working on it. The next time you come here, it'll be different."

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