My primary reason for visiting Douglas, GA this weekend was to see the World War II Flight Training Museum at the Douglas Municipal Airport. Located right off of US 441 across from the Quality Inn, it is open from 1100 to 1600 on Fridays and Saturdays. It is an excellent small museum and is a must see if you’re interested in the history of military aviation (it’s also an excellent tie-in with the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler; if you’re traveling to Georgia to see it, it would definitely be worth the drive down to Douglas). If you’re a military aviation enthusiast, a visit will also include something special (more about that later).
The museum is about the history of the 63rd Flying Training Detachment and the 63rd Army Air Forces Contract Pilot School (Primary). Between 1941-1944, almost 10,000 men were trained at it’s location in Douglas using 200 Stearman PT-17s. There were 55 of these schools throughout the United States but it is believed that the Douglas location is the one remaining in the most intact condition. Most of the school’s buildings are still intact and the instructor’s barracks has been turned into the museum. The museum features a fully intact Link Trainer that was used at the school along with other period items and displays. The museum also has a database of students who trained at the museum and an archive with information on the students (an excellent research tool!). The Docent, Denise, gave an excellent guided tour and after the tour a volunteer walked me back to the hangars and introduced me to some of the volunteers working on aircraft restoration.
As I mentioned above, after I toured the museum, a volunteer walked with me back to the hangars and introduced me to some of the volunteers doing restoration on aircraft and allowed me to take a look at some of the aircraft there at the museum. On hand were a 1943 Boeing A75N/Steaman PT-17 (civil registration N5503N), a Beech D45/T-34B Mentor in US Navy markings (civil registration N157ZL), and a North American SNJ-5C (civil registration N91073, no military markings). Also on hand was a C-47 (civil registration N99FS, 42-4287?). “Weezie” Barendse, who showed me around, said this aircraft saw extensive service in World War II, participating in operations for Normandy and Operation Market Garden and saw use with Don Brooks’ Greenland Expedition to recover a P-38.
There are also two aircraft undergoing restoration at the museum. One is the B-17 that was recovered from a lake in Labrador, Newfoundland, Canada in a project organized by Don Brooks. On Friday, there was no work being done on this aircraft but there was restoration work being done on the second aircraft, a very special one, indeed. I was introduced by a museum volunteer to “Weezie” Barendse, who is part of a crew restoring an XP-82 Twin Mustang. (there is also an article from 2011 on the Moody AFB website about this restoration). One of only five Twin Mustangs remaining and one of only two owned privately, this XP-82 is special because it is 44-83887, the first XP-82 to fly! The intent of the restoration effort is to restore 44-83887 to flying condition; they’ve been working for a little over five years and expect at least two more years of work.
The World War II Flight Training Museum is an great little museum and well worth the trip to Douglas. Any military aviation enthusiast or military history buff would love it. The museum staff are enthusiastic and they give a great tour and will introduce you to the restoration volunteers so you can see the work going on back at the hangars. Seeing the restoration work on the XP-82 made my visit special and one I won’t soon forget. I’ll be making more trips back to Douglas to see the museum and keep up on the XP-82 restoration. I also hope to one day see some of the work going on with the Labrador B-17.