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Selfridge Air Museum looking for volunteers to help preserve aviation history

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Selfridge air museum 1
Posted at 5:37 PM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 17:37:36-05

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — Established in 1917, the Selfridge National Guard Air Base in Harrison Township is one of the oldest in the nation.

The base is home to the Selfridge Air Museum which holds countless aviation artifacts from wars dating back to World War I.

"The museum building itself tells the story of Selfridge and the history of Selfridge is the history of the United States," said Steven Mrozek who is the museum's director. "This museum here was started in 1978 and has been in constant development ever since. It’s named after Thomas Selfridge, who happened to be the first person to lose their life in a powered airplane crash."

Mrozek says he served in the army for 26 years and always had a fascination for history, specifically military history. Through his role as director, he now spends a good portion of his day talking about that history.

The museum holds parts from training planes flown by the Tuskegee Airmen at the base, military uniforms, and artifacts from wars dating back to WWI. There is also authentic aviation training equipment in the museum and an air park that holds 31 historic warplanes.

"There are different types of aircraft that fly. You have powered flight. You have non-powered flight, which are the gliders. You have rotary wing and you have lighter than air," said Mrozek. "There’s a lot of different kinds of aircraft. They’re not all the same and we have living proof of that with some of the aircraft we have over here."

Mrozek says the museum relies on volunteers to run and now they need more of them to help upkeep the 31 planes, run the gift shop and museum.

Gary Orban is one of the volunteers who is currently helping to restore a WWII-era Corsair aircraft.

"This is what we got. The story is amazing. It survived WWII just fine and when it came back to this country it ended up in a public park where the kids stomped it," said Orban as he spoke about the plane. "Then the Navy took it to the yard and shot at it for a few years."

Orban, who has a doctorate in aeronautical engineering, has a day job but spends his off time working on the aircraft on base. He says the plane, which is worth $11 million, has personal significance to him as it is the aircraft several of his family members flew while fighting for the U.S.

"My father flew these things and 8 of my uncles flew these things. A lot of times what they would do, because this aircraft is 7 tons, they wouldn’t have to shoot 'em down, they would just go into a dive. The Japanese would chase them and they'd pull up and the Japanese planes weren't strong enough and their wings would fall off," said Orban.

Orban says the Corsair plane is so rare only 30 are left in the world. He says after 8 years of work, it may not look like much has been done but they've come very far rebuilding both sides.

The museum says additional volunteers would help to upkeep the 31 planes in the air park that are constantly exposed to the elements. No experience is necessary.

Museum staffers say keeping these war relics in good condition is a vital part of preserving history.

"In my eyes, it’s very important. We have to understand the thought process of what happened before we can move forward," said Mrozek.

The museum is now accepting volunteer applications. More information can be found on their website.