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Changes ahead to keep Utah aviation history alive

One of the outdoor aircraft static displays sits next to the entrance of the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The museum recently celebrated its 5 millionth visitor in November 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs)

One of the outdoor aircraft static displays sits next to the entrance of the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Changes are happening at the Hill Aerospace Museum to preserve the installation’s and Utah’s aviation history for generations to come. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

Changes are happening at the Hill Aerospace Museum to preserve the installation’s and Utah’s aviation history for generations to come.

Plans include: reorganizing and rehousing artifacts from the national collection; constructing a new gallery for exhibits and aircraft; and, developing a static/hybrid exhibit that will feature the early days of the Ogden Arsenal and Hill Field, prior to becoming Hill AFB in 1947.

“We have wanted to add an additional gallery for years to bring the majority of our outside aircraft inside out of the elements and expand our storyline,” said museum director Aaron Clark. “The opportunity to do this, and to reorganize the museum campus, is happening now.”

The items at the museum are only part of the legacy the Air Force has in Utah. Behind the base’s fences or at the Utah Test and Training Range, the Air Force also currently manages more than 80 historic buildings and hundreds of archaeological sites that have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This includes the oldest building on the base – the Hobson House – which was built in 1921 for the Ogden Arsenal and is currently used as temporary lodging for distinguished visitors.

Preserving historic aircraft, uniforms, and even buildings at the museum and on the base is a careful balancing of maintenance and renovation of historic buildings to meet ever changing mission needs, said Anya Kitterman, Hill’s Cultural Resource Program manager for the 75th Civil Engineer Group.

“Sometimes buildings and other structures cannot be saved as they were,” she said.

For example, many of the historic munitions storage bunkers on the base have had to be demolished in order to be replaced with storage facilities that meet current standards. Kitterman said the base does work to keep a representative type of each facility to preserve the aviation heritage.

“In many cases, we are able to modify internal uses and floor plans, while still highlighting and maintaining those historic structures as a whole,” she said.

Sometimes, however, the best approach has to be different due to heavy deterioration and minimal opportunity for historic interpretation, Kitterman said. Such is the case with the old World War II-era barracks that is currently at the museum.

“The barracks is at a state of deterioration that would require a complete rebuild to maintain its intended outreach purpose,” Kitterman said. “When that happens, it loses any historic integrity it retained.”

With a Memorandum of Agreement between the Air Force and the Utah State Historic Preservation Office that is being finalized now, Kitterman said the barracks structure will be removed and its story will be preserved via a new exhibit. This exhibit will provide a look not only at barracks living, but will feature the early days of the Ogden Arsenal and Hill Field, including critical elements such as base housing and the 67 miles of historic rail that once crossed much of the base.

Anyone interested in learning more the MOA or how Hill AFB works to mitigate adverse effects to historic properties can contact Kitterman at (801) 586-2464 or at anya.kitterman@us.af.mil.

“While it is always difficult to lose a bit of history, we do our best to hold on to what we can,” she said. “Both SHPO and Hill AFB strive to provide a product that will allow the public to interact with our ‘behind the fence’ cultural resources in ways they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity.”

This has included developing a pamphlet on the historic rail system, producing a book on the base’s historic housing and even participating in a video that highlights the unique Paleo-Indian resources on the UTTR.

“So many of the Air Force’s historic properties are locked behind gates with limited access,” she said. “This new museum project will provide an incredible means to not only interpret a single building – the barracks – but to share, to a larger audience, a wide history and those unique resources we protect and manage.

“It will allow for an exhibit, which can continue to grow, and new information to be shared. It will allow for history once lost to modernization to be revived and explored,” she said.

Clark said the museum often faces historical objects changing and aging over times, especially outdoor structures, but that does not bother him. “It is the natural process of time impacting them,” he said.

The focus, he said, has to be on “what is the most impactful, effective way of communicating and preserving the history of a historical object.”

“This new exhibit will highlight what life would have been like on base and in the community during World War II,” he said. “A major element of this exhibit will focus on the railroad and how it impacted the state, base and workforce.”

The new museum gallery should be constructed and the grounds rearranged no later than the fall of 2023. “The future is bright for the Hill Aerospace Museum,” Clark said.