RIVERSIDE — About 30 veterans visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force to participate in Plane Talks on Friday. Veterans spent the day sharing stories with visitors about the aircraft on display and their time in military service.
The event was an opportunity for community members to connect with veterans and learn more about the history and technology of the Air Force. Oftentimes, veterans spoke about aircraft they had served with.
“It’s sometimes hard to relate to a thing,” said David Tillotson, director of the Air Force museum, referring to the more than 360 aircraft the museum has on display. “It’s easier when that thing is associated with a person and a story.”
Plane Talks normally coincide with major events and holidays related to the department of defense. Sept. 18 marked the 73rd birthday of the United States Air Force. Additionally this year, Sept. 18 was POW/MIA Remembrance Day.
Col. Ron Hunt, who was part of Plane Talks along with his wife Gerry, helped restore the Memphis Belle, and has been involved with restoration at the Air Force Museum for 25 years. Hunt flew 330 combat missions in 10 years, all in the F-4 jet fighter.
“Had the same number of landings as takeoffs,” he said.
Lt. Col. Mike Uecker spoke to visitors about the F-111, a fast, long-range, low-altitude bomber. Uecker spent eight years flying F-111s, before spending 12 years in acquisition and modernization for the Air Force. As a low-altitude flyer, Uecker spent time flying at supersonic speeds in extremely turbulent wind conditions.
“I was fortunate as a Lt. Colonel to have some of the best pilots working with me,” he said.
According to Tillotson, Plane Talks saw an approximate 33 percent increase in visitors compared to the rest of the week. Since reopening, the museum is operating well below 25 percent capacity. Tillotson estimates that in September, the museum sees 500-600 people per day during the week, and about 1,500 people per day on the weekends.
Visitors that day had come from as far as Wisconsin and Michigan to see the museum. Tillotson spoke of a family from Houston, Texas that came to celebrate a veteran’s 85th birthday.
“We are seeing a broader cross section of the regional community since the start of COVID,” Tillotson said. “Many of whom have never been here before.”
The next Plane Talks event will be held on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11.
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