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Explore Aviation History Through Hands-on Learning At The Pacific Coast Air Museum

By Marina I. Jokic

For the last 26 years, the Pacific Coast Air Museum (PCAM) has been a key educational resource on aviation history in Santa Rosa, California. Drawing on the experience and knowledge of active and retired pilots, the museum has fostered a close-knit community of aviation experts, novices, and enthusiasts who encourage the preservation and transmission of this important legacy.

In its fledgling days, PCAM displayed only aircraft that were privately owned by individual members of the museum. In fact, the first aircraft to be procured was an A-26 Invader attack bomber dating to World War II which was in tatters. The plane was taken in by PCAM to undergo major restoration, which is still underway. Soon thereafter, people began donating aviation equipment, memorabilia, and even entire aircraft to the museum in support of their effort to restore these historic objects.

"The museum provides authorized 'hands-on' access to aircraft for all ages. Long ago, young people would show up at airports to help pilots fuel their planes or wash their windshields in the hopes of getting a ride in their plane. With all the security issues at our airports, this can't happen anymore, so PCAM fills the role as aviation mentor," Julie Conklin, director, said. "PCAM is also a gathering place for aviation enthusiasts and military veterans."

In addition to the more than 30 aircraft on display, the museum features a gift shop and its most popular attraction, the 3D virtual flight simulator. Currently, PCAM is showcasing an A-6E Intruder, a C-1A Trader, and an S-2A Tracker Airtanker among others as well as the 9/11 First Responders special exhibit. Many visitors flock to see the F-15A Eagle, one of the first aircraft to respond to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Another successful restoration, an F-8U Crusader was taken in a few years back by the museum and has been nearly brought back to her original glory" so it says "Another important restoration is the F-8U Crusader that was formerly the "Plane in the Park" on 19th Avenue in San Francisco.

The 3D virtual flight simulator is a hit among visitors with its cutting-edge sound and vibrational feedback that mimics the actual flight characteristics of a plane. The experience is very realistic unlike a run-of-the-mill video game. The simulator uses a commercially available simulation engine on a high-powered PC computer. There are over 12 installed aircraft simulations including P-51, F-15, Airbus 320, Cessna 172 and more.

"Climb into the cockpit of the real converted jet trainer fuselage, put on 3D goggles and see everything in 3D, right down to the controls in the cockpit and the landscape whizzing past," Conklin said. "Fly too slowly, stall and crash [or] pull too many G's [and] your vision grays until you ease up on the controls."

The PCAM Flight Wing is dedicated to the preservation of historic aircraft and the education of younger aviation enthusiasts with hands-on projects that can be used to fulfill high school senior project requirements. PCAM also organizes various events such as guest speakers, Hot Dog Thursdays, air and auto shows, and even an annual Santa Fly-In. The museum prides itself as a place of learning but also a place with many interactive and fun events.

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