DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- The ever-growing Air Mobility Command Museum boasts a collection of 33 aircraft, a staff of more than 170 volunteers and a visitor experience that rivals the most notable museums in the country -- but it all started with one wrecked airplane in 1986.
"We started with 20 feet of space in one of the maintenance hangers with an airplane that nobody else wanted," said Mike Leister, the AMC Museum director.
The airplane Leister is referring to is the C-47A Skytrain, nicknamed the "Turf and Sport Special," that was considered beyond salvageable by other museums. Found in a dump near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the aircraft, which had been used for target practice, was airlifted by a Pennsylvania National Guard helicopter to Dover Air Force Base. It was the first aircraft restored for the newly conceptualized museum that would form here.
Leister has been with the museum since its conception as the Dover AFB Historical Center on Oct. 13, 1986. It originally occupied three hangers within the main area of the base, and was officially recognized with museum status in 1995 and moved to its current location in 1996. On Feb. 5, 1997, AMC officially named the Dover AFB Museum as the AMC Museum.
The AMC Museum is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to military airlift and air refueling.
"We have 33 airplanes right now," Leister said. "Twelve of them are either the first, the last, or the only one of their kind left in the world."
This includes the only surviving C-54 "M" Skymaster, the only surviving C-124A Globemaster II and the only surviving F-106 Delta Dart that was actually stationed at Dover AFB. In addition, the museum boasts the only C-5A Galaxy on display anywhere in the world.
When it comes to these aircraft, the museum's restoration crew is renowned as one of the best, doing what they can to conserve, preserve and restore the aircraft in their care. But there are certain jobs that require help from the base.
"The base aircraft maintenance shops help us with our aircraft," Leister said. "There are some jobs we can't do in-house. The aircraft maintenance shops are allowed, by regulation, to assist us, and they go out of their way to really help us out."
Base leadership said it is an honor to assist the museum's mission.
"Team Dover is proud to partner with the Air Mobility Command Museum to preserve the legacy of Air Force global reach," said Col. Michael Grismer, the 436th AW commander. "I applaud the museum staff and their dedicated volunteers who have done amazing work preserving the history of airlift and air refueling."
In addition to the numerous aircraft, the museum houses functioning flight simulators, tens of thousands of artifacts and a multitude of exhibits that display AMC's, Dover AFB's and the Air Force's history.
"Our museum is one of the best," said Dr. Andrew Wackerfuss, the 436th Airlift Wing historian. "Bias aside, it is rare to have a museum as well-developed as this one is, and particularly, to have one whose collection is so focused on the mission of the base."
According to Leister, the museum will continue to grow and add aircraft to its collection. This includes tentative plans for a KB-50 Aerial Tanker, a World War II-era C-46 Commando and a Junkers Ju-52, a World War II-era German airlifter. The growth will not end here, either, with plans to add a C-17 Globemaster III to the inventory.
"Building this from one wrecked airplane that a few people came to see from time to time, to the biggest tourist attraction in central Delaware and being considered the benchmark for field museums in the Air Force has been, personally, very fulfilling," Leister said. "There are individual accomplishments that I'm proud of, but it's the overall accomplishment of the museum that I'm proudest of."
Today, the primary mission of the AMC Museum is to collect, preserve and exhibit the artifacts and human stories significant to the development and employment of military airlift and refueling in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces. The second closely aligned mission is portraying the rich history of Dover AFB and its predecessor, the Dover Army Airfield. The museum makes this history available and attractive to both civilian and military personnel, so that in an increasingly complex society, the role of total force, veterans, operations and equipment is understood and appreciated for their value to the nation.