Harrison County

This aviation museum needs ‘a champion’ to become reality in Gulfport

Francisco Gonzalez wakes at 2 a.m. almost every morning, worried that an aviation museum will never be built on the Coast.

Gonzalez has been trying for 10 years to find a home for the museum that would showcase Mississippi’s rich aviation history. After a plan fell through to renovate a World War II hangar on Hewes Avenue, the museum found a home on Pass Road.

The city of Gulfport agreed to lease a building it had acquired, the old Rooms To Go furniture store on Pass Road, to the John C. Robinson Brown Condor Association. Gonzalez, president of the board, said the only catch now is coming up $250,000 to fix the roof and air conditioning before the one-year lease expires in September.

The repairs are a condition the city has for moving forward with the lease.

“We need a champion,” Gonzalez said.

The building couldn’t be a better place to display airplanes and aviation artifacts. It is open to the second floor, with a mezzanine around three sides and plate-glass windows lining the front.

On Tuesday, a big group of Seabees tore out ceiling tiles and moved the rubble to a dumpster, a first step toward renovations.

The association hopes to open the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum in 2018.

It would pay tribute to John C. Robinson, the most famous African-American aviator of the 1930s; the pioneering Key brothers of Meridian; astronauts Fred Haise of Biloxi and Stuart Roosa, who later owned Gulf Coast Coors Inc. in Gulfport; World War II aviator Jerry O’Keefe; the Tuskegee Airmen, formed in 1941 as African-Americans prepared for combat roles; and record-breaking aviator Roscoe Turner of Corinth.

Gonzalez said the museum would include a restaurant, flight simulators and, hopefully, an observation deck that overlooks the runways at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

He and the association just have to find that champion — or champions — for donations of money and materials to make the museum a reality.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

How to help

The John C. Robinson Brown Condor Association is trying to raise money and secure materials, to begin renovations for the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum planned for the old Rooms To Go building on Pass Road in Gulfport. You can donate directly to the association on its website or to a museum building campaign on GoFundMe.com.

Museum donations can be mailed to The John C. Robinson Brown Condor Association, P.O. Box 7914 Gulfport, Ms. 39506.

For more information, contact Francisco Gonzalez at 601-299-2816.