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Associated Press
A crew of riggers lifts Col. Roscoe Turner’s air racing plane into a banked position for display at the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Crawford Auto Aviation Collection’s revamped exhibit space in Cleveland.

Aviation history showcased

Ohio exhibit gets major renovation

– The Crawford Auto Aviation Collection is coming out of hibernation in the depths of winter.

The transportation arm of the Western Reserve Historical Society will reopen to the public Feb. 2, after undergoing a year’s worth of renovation. Walls have been knocked down to create better sightlines, allowing a better presentation of the society’s collections.

Most of the vehicles that had been on display will return, said Derek Moore, curator of transportation.

The space is almost empty now. If you were to sneak in recently, the only thing you would have seen is a dramatic tableau of Cleveland transportation history: Two 1930s air racers appear to be rounding a pylon much as they did during the Golden Age of that sport between the world wars.

In fact, it is a moment frozen in time.

The smaller plane, called “Pete,” was built by Benjamin Howard in 1929 and is believed to be one of the first purpose-built air racers. On the other side of the imaginary pylon is the model 44 Wedell-Williams racer built for the flamboyant Col. Roscoe Turner in 1932. It appears to be standing on one wingtip.

Specialists finished hanging Turner’s aircraft just Wednesday.

Moore said they are among 10 aircraft in the Crawford collection. Returning for the reopening as well is a 1910 Curtis Model E hydroplane nicknamed “Bumble Bee.” For a while it was based at the Lakewood Yacht Club.

The Crawford’s P-51D Mustang called “Second Fiddle,” also is coming out of mothballs. As of late last week, a team of specialists from Washington state was in the process of reassembling the Mustang.

The team, called Century Aviation, disassembled and moved those aircraft over a year ago so the renovation could commence. The company specializes in moving, restoring and displaying aircraft, said Karen Barrow, one of Century’s partners.

Century began 20 years ago when Barrow and partner Mark Smith were commissioned to move the famed Spruce Goose from Long Beach, Calif., to a museum outside of Portland, Ore. The massive, Howard Hughes-designed plane was an 8-engine flying boat that flew only once, in 1947. Barrow said the move, completed in 1993, took nine months. “It wasn’t difficult,” she deadpanned. “It just took time.”

The skills they are using at the Crawford include finding the right points to attach cables that will keep the two racers in permanent flight. Century has hung nearly 50 aircraft around the nation.

One famous craft that will not return in the near future is a working replica of the Wright Brothers’ 1902 glider, which the historical society commissioned over a decade ago and had flown at Kitty Hawk.

Moore said the graceful little cloth-and-wood biplane will be on loan to the Military Aircraft Preservation Society Museum adjacent to Akron Canton Airport.

The upper floor also will have 23 cars, many of them Cleveland products, including a Winton, some Jordans, a Baker Electric and the all-aluminum 1932 Peerless prototype. Moore said the lower floor may not be ready for the reopening in February. It may hold up to 40 cars that will serve as a timeline of automobile development.