Friday, January 14, 2011

Air Force One and the Concord; A Docent Love Affair

The following article by Stephen Dennis appeared in the September/October 2010 edition of Aloft, a publication of Seattle's Museum of Flight.

Rick Wheeler loves airplanes. They are in his blood. His late father flew for Hawaiian Air, one brother currently flies for them and a second brother builds planes for Boeing.

A developmental disability keeps Rick from flying planes but nothing can keep him away from them. In five years at the MOF he has amassed over 500 volunteer hours. Most of that time has been spent in the Air Park where he devotes two days a week to cleaning either Air Force One or the Concord. Rich Lynch, Air Park Lead, reports that, “Rick is hard working, reliable and very fun to work with. On Air Force One days Rick wears his Air Force One hat and conducts a pre-cleaning walk around the plane in pre-flight fashion. On Concord days he always arrives in his British Air jacket.”

One day, when the Plexiglas was removed for cockpit cleaning, Rick posed in the Air Force One pilot’s seat in a cowboy hat doing his best LBJ imitation. He is particularly proud of that photo.

It’s a 90 minute bus ride from his home to the MOF so Rick makes the most of his time upon arrival. Following his Air Park work he is often found in the control tower or the Personal Courage Wing. His current favorite in the PC Wing is the P-51 and he is saving his money to fulfill a dream in 2011; a flight in the B-17, Liberty Bell.

His volunteer work around the biplane concession has earned him several rides over Seattle and he gives each of his nieces and nephews a biplane ride upon graduation from high school. He has even done a tandem jump from a plane in Hawaii.

His plane passion continues when he is away from the MOF. He maintains a museum quality collection of aircraft and airline pins which he once displayed in the hobby area of the Puyallup Fair. He collects tail numbers in little spiral notebooks and, according to Lynch, if you want to know anything about a particular plane, just give Rick the tail number.

Rick Wheeler, with the support of his “flying family,” demonstrates there are no limits to the volunteer opportunities at the MOF.


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