Thursday, August 19, 2010

Local Aviation Museum is a Hidden Gem

Many may not realize it, but there is a “gem” in our backyard. This treasure is an aviation museum just north of Brighton, off of the I-76 corridor. The Vintage Aero Flying Museum has a collection of biplanes and even a red tri-plane (like the “Red Baron” flew) available to the public to visit and enjoy flying demonstrations. Besides the beautiful airplanes, the museum has on display one of the world’s largest collection of WWI pilot’s uniforms, medals and photos as well as an impressive WWII collection and a BT-13 trainer airplane.

Vintage Aero Flying Museum (or VAFM) is a third generation passion of the Parks Family. Andy Parks, the Executive Director, is the grandson and son of two prior dedicated historians. His grandfather was in WWI and his father grew up meeting the pilot’s and hearing their stories. Andy was born into this passion for keeping history alive and built the museum eight years ago at the Platte Valley Airpark in Fort Lupton, less than a twenty minute drive for most visitors who live north of Denver. In the last three years, Andy has expanded the museum to three buildings: one building houses the collection, another has the airplanes on display, and the third is the museum’s maintenance/project hangar.

You feel like you’re being transported back in time as you enter the museum. “You have the feeling of walking into an underground trench as you come through the front door!”,one recent visitor from Longmont exclaims. Another adds, “I can’t believe that all of this memorabilia is right here and available to the public.” The museum doesn’t strive to be a hidden gem, but operating as a non-profit, funds for marketing are limited at best.

One of the best things about VAFM is that you don’t have to be an aviation or history buff to enjoy your visit. Kids love all the uniforms, equipment and airplanes they see. Nowadays, most kids have never been to an airport where they can get up close to the planes and walk around them, it’s an experience they will remember and re-count to their friends at school. They may even show them a photo taken in a WWI pilot’s uniform in front of the red tri-plane (a service the museum provides to its visitors for a small fee). In fact, the museum only asks for a $5.00 donation for admission, kids under 12 are free.

Museum Director, Andy Parks, has always strived to be a different kind of aviation museum. “There are so many aviation museums around the country that have ‘static’ airplanes that are not intended to ever be flown again. We have always wanted to be a living history museum, where the public can enjoy the planes in flight and see the uniforms and memorabilia of the actual pilots who originally flew these planes,” Andy explains. “In the next year, we hope to gain some corporate support in the area of education for our mobile museum project. Since so many schools have limited funding for field trips, we hope to ‘take the show on the road’ in terms of setting up some display cases in the gym or auditorium of the school and bring the classrooms through our display and presentation throughout the day. We can teach them not only about history but we can incorporate some geography, math and oral presentation skills with our Top Secret Missions curriculum that we have created. We can tailor our visit to kids ranging from Kindergarten all the way to the High School level.” The plan is to bring the mobile education unit to the school without any outlay from their budget. All of the cost to bring the museum “field trip” to the school would come from the museum’s corporate education fund. The museum is currently seeking corporate sponsors for this project.

Although this may be the first time many have heard of the museum; nationally and internationally they are highly regarded. Their collection of rare items even rivals the Smithsonian in importance from this period of aviation history. In fact, researchers from around the world have used the museum’s archives of rare photos and correspondence for their books and other purposes. The museum’s planes and collection are also in demand around the country for display at various air shows. Three of the museum’s airplanes just finished a week long stint at the world’s largest air show, known as Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They were a big hit at the show, being placed in a place of prominence at the grass edge of the main square of the show. An aerial view of the stomped down grass after the show proved the VAFM’s planes to be one of the top ten visited booths in the over 3000 acres of aircraft on display!

Hollywood has also courted this small, Colorado aviation museum. The planes were used in the movie “The Aviator” and also Museum Director, Andy Parks, has been featured in the documentary portion of the film “Flyboys” as well as the “Young Indiana Jones” series produced by George Lucas. Besides these films, the museum has recently created a documentary film of their own called MISSION:DAWNPATROL. The DVD was just released in the past month and it features legendary broadcaster and fellow pilot, Hugh Downs as the narrator. The film chronicles the historic cross-country flight of the museum’s three German airplanes (shown in the photo, left) last fall from Colorado all the way to Dayton, Ohio for the Dawn Patrol gathering of WWI planes at the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum. This trip was historic because these planes were originally built to fly only 30 minutes a day. The museum’s skilled pilots took these planes over 3,000 miles, flying 4-5 hours each day…quite a feat! The film was produced and directed by local Boulder resident and two-time Emmy winner, Art Annecharico, and will be entered into several independent film festivals in the next year. All the proceeds from the sale of this DVD go directly to help support the museum in the future. It can be purchased in the museum’s gift shop or on-line at their website,

Vintage Aero Flying Museum is open every Tues.-Sat., 10am-4pm, and is also available to book school groups, clubs, parties, etc. and can also provide lunch for your group upon request. So….what are you waiting for? Go out and discover this Colorado “gem”, after all we are lucky enough to have it right in our backyard.