History Takes Flight in Urbana, Ohio

Think “museum” and you may picture exhibits frozen in time. Say, a prehistoric winged bug preserved in amber. Captivated by the eerie quiet of its stillness, you imagine how it flew.

But two museums at Grimes Field, Urbana, Ohio’s municipal airport, rev your imagination. They house vintage aircraft that can still take to the air and others that are being restored to fly again—to recall visions of historic exploits.

Restoration of B-17G Champaign Lady in Urbana, Ohio

Many volunteers work tirelessly at Grimes Field to return the Champaign Lady B-17 to the skies. The project will soon move to the Champaign Aviation Museum.

The Grimes Flying Lab Foundation museum features the restored Flying Lab, a modified Beech 18 that was used to test aircraft lighting developed and produced in Urbana by Grimes Manufacturing (now Honeywell Aerospace). The museum preserves the history of the company, which was founded by Warren G. Grimes. This summer Mr. Grimes was posthumously inducted  into the Aviation Hall of Fame, as the father of aircraft lighting and inventor of aircraft navigational instruments. Grimes Field, Mr. Grimes’ gift to the city of Urbana, continues as a living legacy, and the Grimes Flying Lab Foundation museum is a part of the National Aviation Heritage Area, which was created to recognize the Dayton region’s leadership in American aviation history.

A more recent addition to the airport, the Champaign Aviation Museum primarily houses World War II aircraft as well as the world’s only surviving flyable Pitcairn Autogiro, a peculiar cross between airplane and helicopter from the ‘20s.

A B-17G restoration project started five and a half years ago in a hangar on the south end of the airport will be moved into the aviation museum by the end of October. Local business leader and community benefactor Jerry Shiffer initiated the Champaign Lady B-17 project before his passing. His family continues the project with a legion of volunteers, and they built the museum as a tribute to veterans.

With this heightened local interest in aviation history, Grimes Field has become a magnet for special events of flight.  None stands out more than this April’s fly-in by one of the largest, if not the largest, gatherings of B-25s since World War II. Thousands flocked to Urbana to witness the war birds, which dramatically flew into  Grimes Field in support of the Doolittle Raiders’ 68th reunion at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Don’t miss the next big event at Grimes Field: the Mid-Eastern Regional Fly-in, or MERFI, which will bring 350 experimental aircraft, educational programs and displays—along with a chance to see the Grimes Flying Lab,  the Champaign Aviation Museum and the B-17 project—on September 11 and 12.

More on this later…..

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