Airborne Again

Some might deny that Galveston is a center of aviation history. But those naysayers have never heard of Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan, the man who earned international fame when he somehow managed to end up in Ireland after attempting to fly from New York to the West Coast. He was born in the island's Gill Building, at the corner of 21st and Market.

Nor are these skeptics apparently aware that nearby Texas City was once home to the first formally organized tactical air unit, the First Provisional Aero Squadron. One general described its members as "deficient in discipline and the proper knowledge and customs of the service and the duties of an officer."

Sure, the Wright brothers may have foolishly spent their lives north of here, but John Stringfellow lived on our coast for 14 years. He's the Brit who invented the first engine-powered heavier-than-air craft, a steam-driven ten-foot glider, in 1848.

Photographs, uniforms and plaques containing these nifty little factoids line the walls of the Lone Star Flight Museum, home to 34 historic planes built from the 1930s to the 1970s, 24 of which are still flightworthy. What began as the private toy collection of Robert L. Waltrip, the founder and CEO of the world's largest death-care service provider, SCI, now gets a second lease on life in two hangars with an adjoining Texas Aviation Hall of Fame that honors aviators with Texas ties.

But if you want to see these historical craft as their engineers intended them -- in the air -- your chance is the 12th annual Spirit of Flight Air Show. The newly restored British Spitfire, F4U Corsair, AT-11, AT-6 and the museum's prize B-17 Flying Fortress will take to the sky. And if that's not enough capital letters with dashes and numbers for you, the more recent B-2 stealth bomber, AV-8 Harrier and F-16 Viper Demo Team will also show their stuff.

Even doubters of Galveston's aviation significance have got to admit that's pretty cool.

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Dylan Otto Krider