Technology propels visitors to greater heights

Supporters of the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum in Columbus have found a creative way to expand the amount of aviation history visitors can experience by tapping into technology.

The museum, which doubled in size to 7,200 square feet after a 2014 expansion, still has more material than it has room to display on available floor space. So the museum board has turned to digital photo galleries to complement static displays, giving its growing number of visitors more to enjoy.

The new content also provides returning visitors to the museum with a new experience.

Volunteers raised more than $300,000 to increase exhibit space two years ago, and the board is considering constructing a second building for storage that would free up about 1,000 square feet more of display space in the original museum.

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That would create room to display additional artifacts such as military uniforms and a propeller from a C-119 aircraft, a special project that past president Jim Sellars is heading up.

But in an idea suggested by volunteer David Day, the museum has added more context to its exhibits without involving contractors right away, adding nearly a dozen digital picture frames stationed at exhibits that provide slide shows of 20 to 30 additional photos.

“By having more photographs, it tells a more complete story,” Day said.

For example, a digital photo gallery located next to a maintenance display of a mannequin with a toolbox now shows visitors images of what maintenance workers did in the U.S. Air Force, he said.

The air museum, staffed primarily by retired volunteers since it was founded in 1992, was built to capture history of the former Atterbury Army Air Field, later named Bakalar Air Force Base, and its contributions through the years to the nation’s war effort.

It was closed from September 2013 to April 2014 to undergo physical expansion of a library, conference room and replica of an Army barracks.

But after the expansion, museum visits increased by about 30 percent, Sellars said.

School groups and tour groups, some from Indiana and others from out of state, make up the largest share of visitors, current board president Nick Firestone said.

Tour groups range from a dozen people to 40 or 50 people, he said.

Among the most popular exhibits is a World War II rotating beacon that is activated by the press of a button — which tends to catch the interest of children.

This section of the museum includes the recreated barracks room, the restored cockpit of a CG-4A glider and World War II survival equipment.

While some of the digital photo frames are placed on top of displays, museum officials plan to permanently mount some of them as they get a better feel on how best to use them.

Reaction to the digital picture frames has been positive — and the museum, with limited wall space, plans to add more, Firestone said.

“This is an ideal medium,” he said.

While the technology is pretty straight-forward, Day said the biggest challenge is determining which photos to show.

“That’s what it gets down to: What tells the story the best?” he said.

The digital photo frames also can be taken offsite to schools and special events to share with the public, with the ability to customize them as needed, Day said.

Technological advances also have been applied to other exhibits, such as a homecoming celebration of a reserve unit coming back from Vietnam in 1969.

It was once a 16-millimeter film converted to a VHS tape and then to a DVD before finally being made into a computer file, Day said.

Wayne Denton, an assistant pastor with the Martinsville Baptist Tabernacle Church, was among more than a dozen people from the church visiting the museum recently on a tour.

Denton, a first-time guest, said he noticed the digital picture frames as he was browsing one of the exhibits.

“I think it’s a very good addition,” Denton said. “When I go to a place, I like to learn a little bit of history.”

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What: Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum

Where: Columbus Municipal Airport, 4742 Ray Boll Boulevard

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, free admission

Tours: Special tours can be arranged by calling in advance

How to help: Cash donations can be made during a visit, and checks are accepted in person or by mail

For more information: Visit or call 812-372-4356.