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Niagara Aerospace Museum finds new home at Niagara Falls airport

The Niagara Aerospace Museum is about to land a new home after being closed to the general public for more than a year.

A plan to relocate in an empty terminal at the Niagara Falls International Airport in Wheatfield will go before the museum’s board Wednesday, and museum officials hope to reopen in the new space in May 2013.

The new location will give the museum more room to display the region’s aviation and aerospace history than it had in its former locations in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

“It will be larger,” said Paul Faltyn, museum curator, “with more square footage and the opportunity to have more artifacts on display, really showcasing the full spectrum of aviation history.”

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioners on Monday authorized a two-year lease for roughly half of the closed terminal at the airport on Niagara Falls Boulevard. The building has been empty since a new airport terminal opened in 2009.

“We think this is a great opportunity for visitors to the area,” said NFTA Executive Director Kimberly A. Minkel. “People waiting at the new terminal can wander over and take a look at the rich history that our region has to share.”

The NFTA estimates the annual rent for the museum’s 14,230 square feet of the terminal will be $32,017.

The aerospace museum, once housed in downtown Niagara Falls before losing its lease to Seneca Gaming Corp. offices, last displayed its collection at First Niagara Center until last year. Since then, it has stored its exhibits in the former Bell Aircraft Plant in Wheatfield, where it continues to maintain a research library and restoration facility. The museum staff, Faltyn said, has continued to collect, restore and preserve artifacts, but the museum has been closed except by appointment.

Among the museum’s collection are the second-oldest Bell helicopter known to exist, a restored 1917 Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” single-engine biplane and a Bell X-22 – all aircraft that have ties to the region.

“Western New York, at one point, was really the center for aviation development,” Faltyn said.

The Virginia-based American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics last month designated the former Bell Aircraft Plant – which is adjacent to the Niagara Falls International Airport grounds – as a historic aerospace site. The plant produced a number of significant aircraft, including the first American jet, the first commercially certified helicopter and the experimental Bell X-1, which was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier.

Faltyn said the museum will also include exhibits on local companies that continue to contribute to aerospace engineering, including East Aurora-based Moog.

“Not only are we going to showcase the history,” Faltyn said, “but we’re also going to showcase that aviation is alive and well in Western New York.”

As the museum prepares for a new home, it continues to seek support from the public.

“We’re always looking for new artifacts, relative to military and local aviation,” Faltyn said, “and, of course, financial support.”