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Director's Update: Winter 2010

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf, Director
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Looking back over my time as director of this great institution, it is hard to believe the changes that have occurred in the past 14 years. I'd like to take the time to reflect on just a few.

My priority was to establish the Museum as a fully accredited military history museum through accommodating facilities, interpretive exhibits, innovative programs and a professionally active staff. Today, the Museum has become a world leader in the museum profession, reflecting the Air Force's standards of excellence in performance and technology. Further solidifying our role as a world-class facility, the Museum received the highest national recognition for a museum: American Association of Museums (AAM) accreditation in 1998 and reaccreditation in 2008.

The development of a highly qualified staff has been one of my proudest accomplishments. We've placed a heavy emphasis on professional responsibilities, increasing and enhancing the staff's professionalism and technical expertise through encouraging individual and institutional participation in professional museum-related organizational seminars and career program opportunities, insisting on an adherence to governmental and professional ethical standards and attracting the best in talent to fill positions.

Even with a staff of just 96 people, we have continued to move the Museum forward. As we recognized changing demographics and the need to attract new visitors, we transformed the Museum's focus from hardware to military personnel and events, employing the brand "We are the keepers of their stories" as a testament to telling the stories of Air Force men and women. As you may have noticed over the years, this shift resulted in the reinvention of entire exhibition galleries as well as the interpretation of the items on display. All aircraft were moved to place them in the correct chronology, and the exhibits were rewritten to focus on people and events, utilizing the hardware as a backdrop to the more important stories. In an effort to explain the relevance of items to visitors with no military background, we made an effort to incorporate more sensory rich exhibits featuring quality mannequins, artifacts, theatrical lighting and sound walls that place the aircraft in context and bring history to life by dramatizing and personalizing the events depicted. Recognizing the need to highlight not only the Air Force's past, but its present and future, staff developed exhibits that speak to today's generation, such as the Warrior Airmen exhibit, which showcases the role of Airmen in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. I'm pleased that these changes have helped us to increase our annual attendance from 800,000 to nearly 1.4 million visitors.

Part of this reinvention of the Museum's exhibits included the modernization and expansion of our facilities. We now have a dedicated conservation laboratory, a modern research library and a climate-controlled film preservation vault. We developed an energy conservation initiative to implement Executive Order 131148 "Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management," incorporating a phased approach to dramatically reduce energy consumption, and we worked closely with the Corps of Engineers, the Air Force Museum Foundation, Air Force Civil Engineers and the Secretary of the Air Force's office for the successful contract award, construction and completion of a new 200,000 square foot Cold War Gallery and a 60,000 square foot Missile Gallery, completely financed through the use of private funding. You're well aware that we're currently supporting a major capital construction program to expand the Museum's current one million square feet of exhibit space with a new 200,000 square foot building, in which the story of the Air Force's involvement in space will be preserved and presented. The facility will also house the Presidential Aircraft Interpretive Center and the Global Reach Gallery.

Continual process improvement also has been a priority. During my tenure, Museum staff accomplished a worldwide inventory of artifacts and incorporated a biannual inventory process for continued accountability. We re-engineered the Museum's exchange program, modernized the Artifact Management System and tasked a comprehensive risk assessment of the exhibits within the Museum along with a survey of light levels to ensure the security of the artifacts and to meet museum standards.

Finally, in order to help tell the Air Force story, we created new Education and Special Event Divisions to broaden the Museum's outreach. Education grew from a single-person office to four graduate-level educators. The Volunteer Program was moved under this office, providing expanded training and a more professional volunteer corps. Within the first full year of the new division, the number of programs grew from 581 to 898. The number of participants grew as well - from 27,764 to 42,000. Since that time, the number of programs has steadily increased to 1,184 while the number of participants grew to 145,151 (an amazing 422 percent increase in the last 14 years).

Through the Special Events Division, expanded from a single-person office to a team of seven, new partnerships were developed with veteran and national organizations. These have resulted in hosting groups such as the Doolittle Raiders and Tuskegee Airmen, and the creation of partnership events such as the Museum's biennial World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous and the annual Giant Scale Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Show.

These are just a small number of the many, many initiatives that we've established in the past several years. In closing, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. It has been a pleasure to serve as director, and I look forward to watching the Museum continue to thrive in the future.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Friends Journal. To receive the Journal and other benefits, become a member of the Air Force Museum Foundation.