So, have you heard about the group in Texas and their recent request to acquire one of the planes from our National Museum of the United States Air Force, what we affectionately call in these parts as The Air Force Museum? By the way, the “our” includes all Americans, but especially we who take pride in this world-class facility in our own backyard. The Texans have their eyes on SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000, which is a retired Air Force One aircraft. Yes, the president’s plane. This AF-1 was used first by John F. Kennedy and brought the slain president’s body back to Washington, D.C., after his assassination in Dallas. It’s currently housed at our museum and will serve as the centerpiece of a $35 million expansion with all of the other presidential aircraft. But for some reason, the LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson) Presidential Library and Museum in Austin would like sole possession.
Wyatt Thomas Johnson (no relation to the former president) heads the group as the chairman emeritus of the nonprofit LBJ Foundation. Johnson has said that he and other supporters are prepared to raise millions of dollars to house the plane there. One of their board members, Ben Barnes, is on the record as saying: “The LBJ Museum is a superior location compared to a town in Ohio.” Ah, excuse me, did you say “a town in Ohio?” That’s what I thought you said. OK, Mr. Barnes, let me inform you that this “town in Ohio” happens to be Dayton. Let me repeat with emphasis, DAYTON, OHIO.
If you are unaware, Dayton is home to the Wright Brothers—you know, the guys who invented the airplane and without them there wouldn’t be an AF-1. Plus, OUR museum here has over 1 million visitors yearly and it’s free to the public. I understand if the plane were in Austin patrons would be charged a fee and you would have the added bonus of a projected attendance boost for your library. Now I believe I understand your motive.
The group from Texas heard from us about its plans for the plane loud and clear. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James about their “serious concerns” that The Air Force Museum might lose the jet. She and the Air Force responded swiftly with a letter back to Portman and Turner: “The Air Force is not considering the transfer of this aircraft [or any other entity] to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. The Air Force’s decades-long mission as the executive agent for presidential fixed-wing airlift is a great historical narrative and one that we are proud to present to the public. SAM 26000 is a key artifact to tell this important Air Force story.” Case closed, right? Well, not quite, because Mr. Barnes responded in a newspaper article: “That letter was not by any means the last blow landed in this fight.” Fight? This fight is over.
Mr. Johnson says he’s not looking for an adversarial standoff between the foundation, the Air Force and members of congress, but rather a win-win for both communities. And Mr. Johnson, what would be that win-win scenario of which you speak? Well, let me speak the “plane” truth. First, the SAM26000 was also used by a boatload of presidents, such as Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Should we put the plane on tour and make the rounds to all the presidential libraries? Or, send a piece to each place? After all, based on your way of thinking, they all can lay claim to it. And do you really want the aircraft there as a reminder of one of the darkest chapters in our history? When Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office after Kennedy’s death? So, why don’t we all think your way? (I say with tongue firmly planted in cheek.)
In that case, let’s call the Orbit Crane folks, Two Men and a Truck and jet up to The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan and haul the Wright Brothers bike shop and homestead right back here where it belongs. Since we’re laying claim, we could take the scenic route home through D.C. and grab the Wright Flyer currently displayed in the Smithsonian while we’re at it. Where does it end, Texas? Well, hopefully right here. But as Mr. Barnes said, this fight is far from over. Isn’t that what they said at the Alamo? Yes, we haven’t heard the last from them. And they haven’t heard the last from ‘a town in Ohio.’