Saturday, June 15, 2024

Sullenberger Aviation Museum approaching Charlotte takeoff

The former Carolinas Aviation Museum reopens Saturday, June 1, with a new name, in a new location and a renewed commitment to be more than just a place that puts an emphasis on the Tar Heel state’s status as “First in Flight,” says Stephen Saucier, museum president.

The Sullenberger Aviation Museum – which takes its new name after now-retired pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, known for the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” landing – hopes it can spark an interest in young minds about a career in aviation.

“If we want to do something about getting kids interested in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) and address economic mobility, we need to develop a museum that’s about workforce development,” Saucier says.

Sullenberger Aviation Museum President Stephen Saucier talks about opening of museum as a plane lands at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

As Saucier spoke, a plane would land every few minutes a few hundred yards outside his office window on a runway at Charlotte Douglas International, the world’s seventh busiest airport and where about 20,000 people work. He says the museum – and its proximity to the airport – can create a wow factor in young minds.

The museum needs to heighten its relationships with young people in the west Charlotte neighborhoods surrounding the airport, he says, pointing out that 20 low-income public schools are located within a 10-mile distance. Those children, he says, may not realize the close-by opportunities that exist in aviation careers.

“A museum is really, really good at intrinsic motivation, trying to get a child inspired to dream about what they can do in this career,” says Saucier, who has been with the museum since 2017.

The former museum closed after losing its hangar space at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in 2019. A subsequent $34 million community fundraising effort followed, led by Charlotte-based Falfurrias Management Partners Chair Marc Oken, a Navy aviator in Vietnam and former chief finance officer of Bank of America.

Dozens of individuals, companies and organizations gave hundreds of thousands of dollars. Digital media company Red Ventures gave $500,000. Its CEO Ric Elias was a passenger on that fateful USAirways flight that landed in the Hudson River after a flock of Canada geese destroyed its engines. Elias personally gave $1 million. Actor Tom Hanks portrayed Sullenberger in the 2016 film “Sully,” which scored an 85% and 84% on’s Tomatometer and audience rating, respectively.

A total of 45 aircraft will be on display at the 105,000-square-foot multi-buildng campus, including replicas of the Wright Flyer and glider planes, a McDonnell F-4S Phantom II, a Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak used to test breaking the sound barrier, a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, an ERCO Ercoupe, an American Champion Citabria and a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Some aircraft will be displayed outside, others in buildings and a replica hangar.

Rodgers-Leeper, an association between Charlotte-based Rodgers and R.J. Leeper was the general contractor on the project, with Charlotte-based Barringer Construction volunteering to manage the project. Charlotte-based Progressive AE was the architect. Australia-based Freeman Ryan Design was in charge of visitor experience and interactive designs. All of the companies provided services at discount rates, Saucier says.

The museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., noon to 4:30 p.m. Sundays, except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission prices are $24 for adults; $20 for seniors, veterans, military and educators; $18 for students 17 and under; free for members and children under 5. Tickets can be purchased at: Annual membership costs range from $75 for an individual and $200 for a family (two adults, a caregiver and up to six children).

Those prices may be steep for those living in the communities surrounding the airport, and elsewhere, says Saucier. After opening day, tickets will be available for $3 per person if someone in their group has a valid SNAP/EBT (food stamps) card. Those with a valid SNAP/EBT can can buy a year membership through the website for $30.

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