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Caught In His Jet Wash

It was one of the classic lines from a classic 80's movie - Top Gun. This year was supposed to be the release of the follow up to the 1986 classic. However, COVID-19 grounded the film. The F-15 still was the feature as about a dozen people came together at the Space and Rocket Center to wash the jets located at the Aviation Challenge complex. At a time when most aviation museums around the country have temporarily shut down, it was impressive that a dedicated few came out and diligently worked on a Saturday afternoon to preserve some of this nation's most legendary legacy aircraft.

Because these aircraft are stationary outside, they are exposed to the elements all year around. Neglected and decaying aircraft are not only a bad look for any museum, but also a form of disrespect for those who've served this country, mainly the aviators and aircrews that serviced them. At museums across the nation, military planes are donated to the museums on loan from the U.S. Department of Defense. In the contract there is a clause that specifies that if the loaned aircraft are not maintained and kept to an acceptable standard, the aircraft can be retrieved. Aircraft are often times the featured attractions at many of these museums for they represent a living testimony to America's military might in previous wars and eras. Recently in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina the city council spent $86,000 to upkeep its aircraft on display. These aircraft are sentimental in that they were originally flown from a now closed Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.

Each aircraft was given a very thorough scrubbing and rinsing to remove the buildup from being exposed to the natural elements over a considerable amount of time. Earlier this year during the beginning of the Pandemic, the Space and Rocket Center temporarily closed its doors due to obvious health concerns. Because of this, it was unable to generate revenue to sustain operations. However, a massive fundraising campaign was undertaken to raise the necessary funds to remain operable in the ensuing months to come. Since that time, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey lifted some restrictions that allowed the Space and Rocket Center to reopen.

The desire to keep the Rocket Center economically viable and for the continuance of Space Camp and Aviation Challenge was evident in the volunteer efforts that matched the public demand for Space Camp. Behind each of these aircraft are thousands of stories. These stories center around the aircraft and aerospace engineers that designed them, the aircrews and mechanics that serviced and repaired them, and the pilots that flew them.

Every year, approximately half a million people visit the Space and Rocket Center. Therefore it is imperative that the center presents itself as a professional entity that makes it a serious priority to preserve these national treasures and reflection of America's historical air superiority. In 2018, approximately 849,000 people visited the Space and Rocket Center making it Alabama's most visited attraction that charges an admission fee. In 2017 that figure was 786,820. Largely due to the Apollo commemoration at the Space and Rocket Center, there were over one million visitors to the facility.

The preservation and restoration of these aircraft play a cultural role. They silently teach us about the history prior before many of us we were born and promotes the respect for those who were associated with them. Secondly, economy is an important merit of keeping the past alive. People are willing to travel from near and far to witness these historical modern marvels. This is evident in the number of tourists that visit the facility annually and the revenue generated. And for that matter, we're proud to be caught in the jet wash.

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