Dr. Brian Barsanti, Executive Director for the Southern Museum of Flight, was the guest speaker at the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Dr. Barsanti shared some history of the museum, which began in 1966 with a handful of display cases. He also shared plans for the new location which is currently under construction near Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Park which is another dynamic destination attraction that will reside at I-20 Exit 140.
The Southern Museum of Flight is an aviation museum. The virtual tour of the aviation museum presented included the Wright Brothers exhibit, Curtiss-D model, WWI – Fokker D-VII, Huff-Daland (Delta), Tuskegee Airmen, Korean War Jets, Vietnam War, Cold War & Soviet exhibit and A-12 “Blackbird” exhibit.
Educational Institution will include the extension of the classroom. Their curriculum complies with the Alabama Course of Study Standards. Scout programs use this program for merit badges. The Science & Technology Center has Flight Simulators, Interactive Computer Labs, Interactive Flight Simulator Games, Virtual Reality, Virtual Reality F-18 and Wind Tunnel technology. The Cultural Arts Resources include permanent art displays. Enduring Legacy, CIA Art Gallery and Untouchables are among the art exhibits. The CIA Art Gallery is the only one of its kind.
Southern Flight has become much more multi-dimensional with performing arts. The museum has included Alabama Symphony Orchestra performances, Air Force Band of the West, ballet and Opera Birmingham. The Event Venue & Convention Center is available for dinners, seminars, conventions, special events, weddings and receptions. There’s also a play area for kids.
Plans are in the discussion stage about an amphitheater and maybe full flight simulations. Visions of the future include an extension of their educational program to evolve into a Workforce Development Center. They are currently working with friends of the Alabama Community College system on certification programs at the museum site with first phase for four certifications: Aviation Electronics Technician, Assembly Certificate, Manufacturing and Unmanned Drone Certification. This will fill a gap in training for these jobs. Air Frame & Power Plant Technician (A&P), also known as the Aircraft Mechanic, is one of the certifications they are working on. A recent article mentioned that FedEx is currently paying $90 per hour to start with a two-year certification for A & P. Southern Flight is also excited about eleventh-twelve grade dual enrollment for this program.
In Hollywood, Southern Museum of Flight has appeared on three episodes of Gears and an episode of Mysteries at the Museum. The museum has partnered with their friends at GameStop to offer summer camps for kids.
The move to the new location in Leeds will enable Southern Museum of Flight to become a destination. The total complex will be approximately 100 acres when fully complete. The Grand River Technology Park will cover over 46 acres and the museum will cover more than 24 acres which is five times their current footprint.
Dates are February or March 2020 for completion of the grading work. Opening of Phase One is estimated late 2021-early 2022. The museum, along with Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Park, Bass Pro Shop, the Shops of Grand River and Drive-In have spawned others. Residential developments are underway, Buc-ee’s is coming which is truly a cultural experience and others will follow.
Dr. Barsanti shared, “It wasn’t easy to find a site; it wasn’t easy to find 25 acres in Birmingham and it wasn’t easy to find a place where those relationships and synergy already existed between organizations, which made exit 140 the premier site revealed by the feasibility study.”
Southern Museum of Flight is currently located at 4343 73rd Street North in Birmingham and open Tuesday through Saturday. For more information about the museum, summer camps and more, please visit their website at www.southernmuseumofflight.org.