Museum opening a hit with high-flying visitors

It was like Julius Szenegeto was in a league of his own Saturday, touring the newly opened Ernie Hall Aviation Museum, which was the center of attention on the former Sloas property and airfield for the second annual Wings-n-Wheels.

”They have truly assembled the history of local aviation right here,” said the 86-year-old Szenegeto, standing next to an exhibit featuring his heroics as a U.S. Air Force colonel who flew 109 missions in Vietnam as a Thunder Chief pilot.

Szenegeto, known to his friends as ”Mook,” still has credentials as a flight instructor and still lives in the same Greene Township home that he grew up in.

”It’s just exhilarating!” he said, looking at the artifacts.

And Szenegeto was among several other local aviators – some military, some commercial – who knew flight pioneer Hall of Howland and who canvassed the the grounds during the first day of the two-day event and fundraiser while single-engine props did ”fly bys.”

The non-profit museum is actually a labor of love put together by the Griffin family, including Bill Griffin, chairmen of the museum’s board, and his father, Art, who claims that growing up three miles north of the old Youngstown Municipal Airport and watching the old DC-3s of United Airlines take off and land just became a fascination.

The fascination became a hobby skill of piecing together models of planes to the point where the models fill a long shelf that runs along the length of one hanger.

”There are still many more models in my home, workshop and my sons’ homes,” said Art Griffin, a 77-year-old Packard Electric retiree, who also repaired a lot of the larger radio operated planes.

He spent time showing off several of his works, including Howard Hughes ”Spruce Goose,” an early Lear Jet used by the DeBartolo family, the ”Sprit of St. Louis,” and a plane called ”Dusty” from a Disney film.

Griffin also takes pride in the many tractor models he put together and that were on display Saturday with real tractors and motorcycles.

Today’s events features the classic cars and planes.

In the corner of one of the hangers is Hall’s desk with a little collection of memorabilia.

Hall, who lived from 1897 to 1972, built his first plane in 1911, served as a civilian flight instructor for the U.S. Army during World War I and operated his own flight school that operated for decades on state Route 46 in Howland. He also trained two future Air Force generals, built planes for the Wright Brothers and earned national acclaim for his work.

”I just hope that some day, this site can serve as a destination for small planes from all over – where people can fly-in and maybe catch dinner or meet their friends,” said Bill Griffin, who along with his brother, Bob, fly their own planes.

Griffin said the museum will be today for Wings-n-Wheels, but it will close after the weekend to complete some finishing touches. He expects the museum to open full time by mid-September and they will announce hours of operation and other details closer to that date.

The fundraiser benefits the museum and the Animal Welfare League.