Not far from Gilliam-McConnell Airfield on Dowd Road in Carthage you can see the promising beginnings of the James Rogers McConnell Air Museum.
It’s not far from the location of the famous Pik N Pig restaurant, which was only destroyed in a fire on May 30th. It is hoped that it will reopen soon.
The Air Museum’s vision is to create a lasting memorial that honors historical and current aviation and honors brave aviators and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It displays historic aircraft, flight memorabilia, and offers educational facilities. It is a non-profit association.
James Rogers McConnell
The museum is appropriately located in the hometown of James Rogers McConnell, who was killed while flying in France during World War I for the famous Lafayette Escadrille. It was shot down before the US entered the war on March 19, 1917, in a dogfight with two German planes over the Somme. He was buried in a meadow between Flavy-le-Martel and Jussy in Aisne, France.
A French quote reads: “He fought for humanity, freedom and democracy, lit the way for his countrymen and showed all people how to venture nobly and die gloriously.” In downtown Carthage, a large mural by Scott Nurkin from Chapel Hill pays tribute McConnell’s heroism.
The air museum also honors the 2nd Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, who died on October 6, 1944 in China during a flight for the 74th Flying Tigers Fighter Squadron. It crashed near Guidon County. His remains were returned to High Falls in 2006. A memorial to Lt. Upchurch is located on the premises of the Air Museum.
Robert Hoyle Upchurch
Gilliam-McConnell Airfield was founded in 1994 by Roland and Nancy Gilliam. Roland is a historical aviation enthusiast from the First World War and the owner of replicas of aircraft from the First World War. The airfield is home to Chapter 1220 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is a sponsor of the EAA Young Eagles program, which enables thousands of young children to experience free rides. It also promotes careers in aviation through local high school Air Force ROTC units.
Moore County was lucky because from the dawn of aviation there have been visionary aviation pioneers in our area, including pilot Lloyd Yost. He was offered an agency to sell WACO aircraft and chose Pinehurst as his base of operations.
Of 18,250 state-licensed pilots in 1933, Yost was officially listed as a # 52 pilot and # 38 among licensed mechanics. Under the aegis of the Tufts family, who foresaw the potential of aviation, Knollwood Airfield was financed and built here on June 22, 1928.
Of the first 15 pilots Yost taught solo flying, three were women. In the early days, it took passengers for a short jump for $ 2.50. Instructions were $ 30 an hour.
During the heyday of early flight, Yost Will Rogers and many other celebrities flew here. The famous aviator Amelia Earhart landed here in an autogiro sponsored by Beechnut Gum. Jimmy Doolittle, later the leader of the US raid on Tokyo in April 1942, was also an early visitor.
Today we are fortunate to be able to operate the professionally managed Moore County Airport – formerly Knollwood Airport – which attracts a significant number of aircraft to our area, especially travelers heading for golf resorts.
And to complete our modern aviation image, Sandhills Community College has developed a comprehensive professional pilot technology curriculum designed to prepare students for a variety of aviation and aviation careers.
These include the commercial airlines, general aviation, aerospace, military, unmanned aerial systems industry, and state and federal aviation organizations.
The college works with airport staff to ensure complete immersion in all aspects of the flight.
The program lasts four semesters plus two summer semesters and awards associate degrees in aviation, professional pilot and aviation management. Students in the curriculum must receive separate flight training for their private, instrument, and commercial FAA licenses and ratings.
The program has now completed its third year, two in the commercial pilot track and six in aviation management. There are now 35 students in the program.
Now all that is needed to complete the picture would be the return of scheduled commercial traffic at Moore County Airport.
Paul R. Dunn, author of The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln, can be reached at Paulandbj@nc.rr.com.