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By Frederick C. Fair

NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs Volunteer

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to pilot an aircraft in combat or walk among naval aircraft from yesteryear?

If you have but always thought it was out of reach, just stop by the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum (PRNAM) outside Gate One on Three Notch Road; not only will you be able to try your hand in a Mach combat flight simulator, you will see full-scale aircraft from the oldest model Curtiss A-1 to the latest X-32 concept planes. The museum flagship Curtiss A-1 aircraft is an exact replica of the Navy’s first aircraft and was built by the Southern Maryland Experimental Aircraft Association.

Museum Operations

The Patuxent River Naval Air Museum Association is the operational and fundraising arm of the facility. Because the museum is a non-profit organization, it depends on grants, donations, corporate sponsorships and memberships to keep the facility operational.

The aircraft on display are the museum’s biggest attraction. In fact, both X-32 prototypes for the F-35 competition were showcased in the 2003 PBS documentary “Battle of the X-Planes.”

“All aircraft on the flight line have a story to tell to help preserve the history of naval aviation,” said Pete Butt, association vice president. “The crown jewel of the flight line is the Boeing version of the X-32B of the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 concept. It is the only museum in the world that has both prototypes.”

The Volunteers

Butt and Ed Sierra, association president, both agree they could not operate this venture without its volunteers and members.

There are currently about 200 members of the association, and membership income helps fund the day to day costs of running the museum, Sierra said.

The site has a limited number of paid staff to keep the building operational, but without additional support in the form of membership dues and donations, the museum would operate at a deficit, Butt said.

After 41 years of civilian service at NAS Pax River, Butt continues to give back to the Pax River community by volunteering at the museum.

Overcoming Challenges

By using the correct mix of displays, Sierra said, the museum continues to look for ways to appeal to a vast audience consisting of adults, children and retirees.

The most important goal for Sierra and Butt is to figure out how to get people from the base to become more involved.

For starters, Butt suggests people visit the facility during lunchtime, off duty hours or even as a “cheap date.” “Once there, you’ll be hooked,” he said.

Get Involved

The museum welcomes anyone interested in volunteering to assist with museum curation whether they have naval aviation experience or not. The museum is a great place for high school students to earn their community service hours by volunteering.