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Goal of aviation history museum realized at Arnold Palmer Airport

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Saturday, May 29, 2010
 

After more than a quarter-century in the making, a museum dedicated to aviation history is set to open at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

The KLBE Air Museum will welcome visitors this weekend for the first time. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and Sunday in a hangar at the Unity facility owned by Don Rossi of nearby Youngstown.

In official flight-tracking terms, "K" means airport, and "LBE" means Latrobe.

"This project was inspired out of love for aviation," said Rossi, a longtime pilot and a board member of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority. "It's a very humble attempt, and it's only a start."

The real start came in 1985, when Rossi, Attilio Negro of Hempfield, Ed Sobota of Latrobe and the late Babe Krinock flew to Bozeman, Mont., to buy "Old Blue" — a vintage, single-engine Stinson Reliant.

The plane had crashed in the wilds of Alaska. It was disassembled and transported via dog sled and flat-bed trailer to Bozeman, where it was restored.

"We all took turns flying that plane back here to put it on display here in Latrobe," Rossi said.

The craft is similar to the type that was used for airmail pickup at the airport beginning in 1939. It is painted in the maroon All American Aviation colors worn during the first scheduled pickup there.

"Our airport was the first in the world to have a government contract for air-belt mail pickup," Rossi said. "That allowed communities here to get mail delivered across the U.S. in record-breaking time."

"Old Blue" is on display in the museum, along with a life-sized MiG-15 UTI, a 1967 Cessna 150, and a Great Lakes Co. aircraft featured at several popular air shows at the airport.

The museum has a 24-seat theater outfitted with airline seats, where audiences can watch aviation-related films.

This weekend, local pilots will be on hand to talk about the displays, local aviation history and flight experiences.

The museum is on the airport's east ramp, along Route 981, across from Kennametal. It is just south of Route 30, near the old rotating beacon.

There is no charge for admission, but parking will be limited.

"All of us are volunteers, and our goal is to teach aviation education — the way it was, the way it is and the way it will be," Rossi said.

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