Piper Flight Museum celebrates 20 years – By KATE WEHLANNFor more information on the museum visit this URL
It all started when a plane landed in a field near Lowell Depoy’s
father’s cow pasture.
The plane carried a Surge Milking salesman, selling mechanized dairy
cow milkers, from Hartford City. Depoy said his father did end up
purchasing milking machines for the family’s dairy cows, but for
DePoy, having one chore get easier wasn’t the highlight of the visit.
Watching the plane land and being allowed to see the plane up close
sparked something in DePoy that never let him go — the magic of
“I asked if I could go back and look at the plane and he said I could
and Dad said, ‘Don’t touch anything,’ and (the salesman) said, “Eh, he
can’t hurt anything.’ I could walk back there today and show you
exactly where that plane landed… The seed was planted then to
someday fly an airplane, but I had no idea it would develop into this.
I eventually got my license, but I still reflect back to when that
seed was planted.”
His first model airplane – a Piper cub, a bright yellow one, just like
the one he flies. The first plane he ever rode in – a Piper cub.
Decades later, Depoy’s face still shows that same spark when he talks
about flying and his beloved Piper aircraft, along with all the pieces
of memorabilia – from manuals to diagrams to poems he wrote and were
published to plane parts to pictures to models — at the Piper Flight
Museum at the Salem Airport. He hopes to pass on that love for
aviation to others and, especially, the next generation of pilots,
engineers, manufacturers, flight attendants and more. He even has
resources for those already adults, interested in getting a pilot’s
license or have a general interest in aviation.
“There are so many careers in aviation beyond being a pilot,” he said.
“And there’s such a need in that field.”
It was a librarian at his high school who encouraged his interest in
“She knew I was interested in two things: ham radio – there’s my ham
radio station over there,” he said, pointing to a brown box with
radios around it, “and airplanes. Piper would advertise in a lot of
magazines… and she said, ‘Hey, Lowell, I have a new Boys Life that
has a Piper advertisement in it. I’ve always been a fan of Piper and
cubs. We fly a Cessna, also. It’s in another hangar. I’d read anything
with electronics in it, ham radio and aviation.”
He got his ham radio license more than 60 years ago and his pilot’s
license not too long after that. In time, he became friends with Bill
Piper, Jr., the son of the man who started the Piper Aviation.
Depoy said Danny Briscoe and Tony Hoke framed the hangar-like building
at the airport in January of 1998 and Depoy spent the next year
turning it into the home for some of his most treasured pieces of
“I laid the concrete and finished a lot of it myself to save some
money,” he said. “It was eating the elephant, one bite at a time.”
The museum opened in January 1999 and celebrated 20 years in operation
last month. DePoy’s guestbook records the hundreds of visitors who
meander through the rooms every year – school groups, flight-inclined
out-of-towners, groups who hold events at the museum and, of course,
fellow local plane people. He said one year, he had about two hundred
children and chaperones in one day come from East Washington
“I’d bought about five dozen cookies that morning for the kids,” he
said. “When I knew more were coming that afternoon, I had to go out
The museum is open to host meetings and events for free, as well.
DePoy said the museum has a “hands-on policy,” that could lend itself
to being a family-friendly venue. He is currently hosting a 4-H group
working on aviation projects for the fair and teaching the kids, some
as young as 6, about the joy and mechanics of flight. It’s a good
blend between his passion for flight and his long-held career as a
Evidence of that career can be found in the displays and his abililty
to launch into an informative discussion on the contents of his
museum, one of which is a wind tunnel he built as an assignment while
he was obtaining his master’s degree.
“One of the last assignments I had was I had to take a book, 100 pages
or more and it had to be something I had intense interest in,” he
explained. “I’ve always been curious about the Wright Brothers’ wind
tunnel and I have some pictures of it and it was next to something
with the exact measurements, so I scaled it up… and built it. I
built all of these devices in here to show what shape would give the
most amount of lift with the least amount of drag. My professor wanted
to know what I was doing and I explained it and he came out here to
see it when it was almost finished. I had to create a set of 20 lesson
plans to use with it and I put together 39. Every class I did, I went
for the A.”
His professor, Neil Brewer, put the wind tunnel in a graduate’s
symposium a few weeks later. It’s on roll ers and he offers to let
area teachers use it in their classrooms.
Depoy also has a library of more than 400 books and videos that have
to do with flight and pilots, open to anyone wanting to read or
research a topic on aviation.
“We probably have the largest collection of education materials in
this part of the country,” he said. “Not just Piper, but overall
DePoy partners with Prosser to work with students interested in
aviation. They come out to the museum and they “talk shop with DePoy.
“It’s a two-year program and they’re good kids, he said.
The Indiana Department of Education has even noticed the museum. The
Piper Flight Museum has been designated as one of 12 reading sites
where families can come to read. DePoy put together a space for
children to read books that include airplanes.
“We’ll have people driving through and say they read about the Piper
Museum on Travel Indiana and I’ll say, “Yes, bring your children. We
have a round table here to sit in. I have refreshments, snacks,
drinks, air conditioning or heat, and you can sit here and spend the
So how much does it cost to come to the museum? Nothing.
“We’ve never charged anything and never will,” said DePoy. He repeated
several times during the course of our discussion that the museum
belongs to the community, that he just maintains it. He does so with
the help of some donations, but about a third of the funds needed to
operate the museum comes from his work selling reproductions of old
manuals. The rest he pays out of his own pocket.
“It brings families together,” said DePoy’s wife, Rhonda. “You don’t
see that as much anymore. If a child comes out here, they’re with
someone – grandpa or parents.”
“We just wanted to create something and share it with the public,
something that’s been a big part of our lives. There are so many
things in aviation that touch all of us… We want to present a
facility that will enrichen each member’s life in Salem and the
We’ve been blessed to share a dream I held onto. I tell kids – I you
see yourself doing something someday, hold onto that dream. If you
keep thinking about it and working toward it, it will come true. It
might not come true the way you expected, but I had no idea this would
come from a little plane landing in Dad’s pasture field.”
As for the future of the museum, DePoy said they’re only limited by
“We have some ideas of what we’d like to see it evolve into,” he said.
“I would like to see someone else come in and join us and take it
over. I think there’s some possibilities there. We’ll still support it
financially, but we’re get ting older and it’s time to get new people
in here with new ideas and new enthusiasm to reach a new audience. We
just feel there’s more we can do here in the community and need input.
We want to know what they’d like to see, what inspires them about this
fantastic world of aviation?”