Fred Bell at the Palm Springs Air Museum in front of the North American P-51D Mustang “Bunny.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRUCE FEAGLE
About 25 years ago, while Fred Bell was visiting the Palm Springs Air Museum with his kids, Captain John Duncan recruited him to the charity’s board of directors. Now, he reflects on how he has helped grow the museum’s collection of military aircraft as well as its attendance and support.
This growth has instigated the makeover of the museum’s entrance (currently underway) and expansion for its educational programs and new opportunities — such as the acquisition of aircraft.
The museum recently acquired a rare F-117 Nighthawk #833, a stealth fighter also known as the Black Devil (one of only 59 built), and is also displaying Walt Disney’s Gulfstream airplane, which is on loan to the museum and special to Bell because Disney is one of his personal heroes. “Having that touchstone here for the Coachella Valley is important,” Bell says, alluding to the desert’s history of innovation. “It’s kind of stepping out of that mold and using Disney to tell people, no, you don’t have to have bumpers on your vision.”
Dominating the expansion is the new Ronald M. Auen Learning Center, focused on science, technology and mathematics. There will also be new visitor amenities and a museum shop.
The museum has added the First Flight program to inspire young people ages 12 to 17 to become commercial pilots.
The venue also offers spaces to local events and philanthropic galas, including its own to celebrate aviation and support the museum.