Monday, January 25, 2016

Peterson Museum a unique asset

by Rob L. Bussard
21st Space Wing Public Affairs

1/20/2016 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Located within buildings that were constructed from 1928 through 1941, the Edward J. Peterson Air and Space Museum here is a free unique asset dedicated to telling the story of Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

"With only 11 field museums in the Air Force, Peterson is very lucky to have one" said Gail Whalen, the museum director. "It is here that the history of the base is told to visitors by our displays and our complement of over 50 volunteers, called docents."

The docents provide a warm welcome and appear eager to explain Peterson's history. It began life as the first Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, then in 1942 the area was leased by the city to the Army Air Forces and renamed Colorado Springs Army Air Base. Later its name changed again to Peterson Army Air Base in honor of 1st Lt. Edward J. Peterson, a World War II Army Air Corps pilot and Colorado native who was killed in a crash here on Aug. 8, 1942.

Docents will tell visitors that as a B-24 bomber training and aerial photo reconnaissance training base, Peterson prepared Soldiers for WWII action. Once WWII ended, the base returned to its origins as the municipal airport. Then in 1951 the base was reactivated as an airfield supporting the relatively new USAF Air Defense Command.

"The base has always had an association with air defense, both U.S. and North American air defense," said Jeffrey Nash, the museum's assistant director. "And it still does today with the very first Air Force space wing."

In addition to being an Air Force field museum, the age-old facilities are on the National Register of Historic Places and are also considered a Colorado State Historic District.

"The museum has an agreement with the 21st Space Wing that because of the historical designations, the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron will maintain the structures in as much of their original condition as possible," Nash said.

The museum consists of four original structures - the airport passenger terminal, two identical aircraft hangars and the original airport manager's home, now known as "The Spanish House."

The terminal was built in 1941 and reflects the Art Deco architectural movement of that time. Serving as the entry point to the museum complex, period styling and fixtures attest that it was built to be a Colorado Springs showplace. It houses the museum gift shop, theater, and various exhibits related to early Colorado Springs aviation and WWII Peterson Field.

Built in 1928, one of the hangars is known as the City Hangar and is the oldest structure of the museum. It houses a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft that was restored by museum volunteers.

"That P-47 was my initial introduction to the museum," Nash said. "As a volunteer prior to gaining employment here, it took a team of us slightly more than five years to restore it. In 2005 it was ready and put on display."

The City Hangar also contains various missile assemblies, various space satellites, radar displays and the crown jewel - a ballistic missile launch control facility mock-up. Other NORAD and CMAFS displays dot the large structure.

The other hangar was built in 1930. Known as the Broadmoor Hangar, it's a duplicate of the City Hangar. Nash explained that future plans are to expand the museum's visitor and exhibit space into it, after restoring the hangar inside and out to return the features of its original design.

Within a circle created by these three landmarks, an award-winning airpark with over 16 U.S. and Canadian aircraft and missiles reside as outdoor static displays for visitors to roam and learn about. Designed by museum staff to be a walk through time, each display has an informational plaque for visitors to peruse as they learn about air defense of North America during the Cold War.

There are also four other off-campus static aircraft strategically located at different areas around base, along with a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile on Peterson Road.

The museum is popular with civilian tourists.

"We average over 20,000 visitors a year" said Nash, "and most of those visitors have no military affiliation."

Visitors without a form of military ID will require a visitor's pass, which can be arranged by calling (719) 556-4915, or requesting one via their online form found at the museum website at

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