Open to all ages, the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum at Los Angeles International Airport has historical aviation exhibits, educational tours and programs, research facilities and community events for schools, civic organizations and professional groups.
Museum representatives note that Flight Path receives a wide range of visitors including students, teachers, travelers and local residents.
“It doesn’t matter what age or group comes through, they always have a smile when they leave,” says Rowena Ake, president and chair of the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum of Southern California.
The staff consists entirely of volunteers, who are available to answer questions. They include active or retired airline employees, as well as airport and aerospace professionals.
Flight Path covers aviation history from the first powered flight by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903 to the present. Some of the featured displays include airplane models, aviation art and photographs, artifacts, flight attendant uniforms (over 500), and in-flight souvenirs.
The original idea for the Flight Path Learning Center came from a group of aviation enthusiasts in 1995. A year later, a rotunda and “walk of fame” was dedicated to aviation pioneers including Brig. General Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager (U.S. Air Force retired), John K. Northrop, Donald W. Douglas, and Amelia Earhart.
“That’s where it all started, with the rotunda,” Ake recalled of the museum’s beginning.
The walk of fame has since expanded to over 30 plaques located between La Tijera Boulevard and Westchester Parkway on Sepulveda Boulevard.
“We wanted to honor aviation pioneers and to encourage today’s youth to become future pioneers,” said Morrey Plotkin, founding member of Flight Path and originator of the walk of fame who is also the Board of Directors chair emeritus.
After a long search for a Flight Path location, the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners authorized the nonprofit organization to operate an educational facility and museum at the LAX Imperial Terminal in November 2002, with its doors opening to the public in October 2003.
That year, the inaugural fundraising gala at the facility celebrated the 100th anniversary of powered flight honoring the Wright Brothers and was held on the tarmac adjacent to the museum. Past gala themes include the 75th anniversary of the “Spirit of Charles Lindbergh,” the Fabulous Forties, and the 100th anniversary of the birth of aviator Howard Hughes.
One of the special features of the museum is the Flight Path Flyers Program, a flight simulator instruction program under the direction of Martell Bush, head flight simulator instructor. Bush also created the computers and programs simulating the flight of a Cessna 172 aircraft.
“We have students, active pilots, and World War II pilots come in here,” says Bush.
“With students (the simulators) help them focus on what they are doing. It even makes them better drivers because they transfer the skills.”
The flight simulator instruction is available to those 12 and over.
Another feature of the museum is a vintage DC-3 aircraft built in 1941 for commercial use. In 1950, the DC-3 was converted to a corporate jet with velvet couches, a dining area, and period lamp. The DC-3 belongs to a class of aircraft called “tail draggers” because the rear of the plane is lower than the front when on the ground, a museum spokesperson notes.
Among other features of Flight Path is the William A. Schoneberger Research Library, which provides information on airline and airport histories, aviation biographies, aircraft technical manuals, aerospace information, periodicals, aircraft manufacturers, aviation pioneers, magazines, and the history of LAX.
Schoneberger was an aviation historian, co-founder of Flight Path, and a longtime member of the Board of Directors.
“We have information on airplanes through the years,” says Ethel Pattison, head research librarian. “You can browse and find any subject you’re interested in.”
The public is invited to use the library but items can not be checked out. In addition, Flight Path offers two scholarships to encourage youth participation in aviation and aeronautics education.
The Charles “Pete” Conrad Scholarship, in honor of the Apollo 12 astronaut, offers $2,000. The second scholarship is the $5,000 Clay Lacy Scholarship, named after the president of Clay Lacy Aviation. The application deadline for both is May 18, and the winners will be announced at this year’s gala.
Flight Path is located at 6661 W. Imperial Highway at the LAX Imperial Terminal, just south of the airport. The museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parking and admission are free.