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The Niagara Aerospace Museum, commemorating Western New York's aviation heritage, will open May 16, which is Armed Forces Day, executive director Richard Byron said Tuesday.

Details of the planned exhibits are to be announced at an invitation-only gathering Monday in the Sierra Research Division hangar, 485 Cayuga Road, Cheektowaga.

The museum's temporary location will be in the Summit Park Mall, 6929 Williams Road. Mall general manager Joseph Wahl said the museum will occupy a store that formerly housed Hens & Kelly and Macy's Closeout but has been vacant since 1995.

Byron said the museum is renting the 40,000-square-foot space for $1 a year, through an arrangement with the mall's owner, Forest City Development.

He said the museum will open with half of the first floor, or 20,000 square feet, with a temporary wall in place that can be moved later as the collection of aircraft and memorabilia expands.

Eventually, the museum will have its own building, which Wahl said will be either near or connected to the mall.

The plans, made by Wendel Engineers, are on the drawing board.

"That's a 100,000-square-foot building," Byron said. "It's a hangar-type building with a control tower sticking out of it."

Byron, an Orchard Park resident, said items have been taken into the mall since last summer. He said before opening, he expects to pick up an early Bell Aircraft Co. helicopter in Pennsylvania and enough original parts in Delaware to assemble another one.

The museum is selling corporate sponsorships and individual memberships as a means of fund-raising. No government money is involved, although Byron said grants have been sought. Wahl said a membership costs $25. Higher contributions include $50 to be an associate, $100 for a contributing member, $500 to be a patron and $1,000 to be listed as a benefactor.

The museum will feature the history of aircraft manufacturing in Western New York, which dates back to the World War I era.

"Between Bell, Curtiss and Consolidated, about 40,000 aircraft were built here," Byron said.

Curtiss was first, building such planes as the World War I trainer called the "Jenny," officially the JN-4D. The company later became Curtiss-Wright, building World War II fighters and cargo planes, and later moved out-of-state.

Consolidated Aircraft was in Buffalo until 1935, when it moved to San Diego. Its vice president, Lawrence Bell, stayed behind and founded Bell Aircraft Co. in the former Consolidated plant before its Wheatfield factory was built in the late 1930s.

Various smaller companies also built planes in Western New York, Byron said.

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