More than a decade ago, Brigadier General Dan Cherry and a group of friends from Bowling Green, KY made a “boy’s trip” to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. While there the Director of the Museum came down on the museum floor and advised Cherry that there was an aircraft on static display at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post in Enon, Ohio, that he and his group might like to visit. It was the very F-4 Phantom fighter (#550) General Cherry had been flying in Vietnam on April 16, 1972, when he achieved an aerial victory over a MiG 21 in Vietnam. The group went to the VFW Post and Dan was reunited with his fighter, while giving his friends an emotional recital of the aerial dog-fight when he shot down an enemy aircraft.
During the long trip home these men speculated about the possibility of obtaining the F-4 for display in Bowling Green, to honor not only Cherry, but also to secure other aircraft to honor aviators from South-Central Kentucky who had aviation accomplishments. Thus was born the concept of Aviation Heritage Park.
Others now honored with representative aircraft in the park include:
LCDR John J. Magda, a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and commander of the Navy Blue Angels.
General Russell E. Dougherty, a four-star USAF general who commanded the Strategic Air Command.
Colonel Arnie Franklin, the mission commander of the USAF participation in the Operation El Dorado Canyon raid on Libya on April 15, 1986.
Colonel Terrence W. Wilcutt, A NASA astronaut since July of 1991.
Colonel Raymond T. Nutter, a highly decorated U.S. Army helicopter from the Vietnam War.
Willa Brown, trained the Tuskeegee Airmen and was the first American black woman to earn a commercial pilot’s license.
Colonel Arthur (Mac) Reynolds, Marine One pilot for four presidents and Commander of HMX-1
Others honored by activities in the park are Brigadier General Victor Strahm from Bowling Green, Kentucky’s first aerial ace in World War I, Brigadier General Kenneth Fleenor, a Bowling Green native who was shot down while piloting an F-4 during the Vietnam War and survived after being a POW for 5 and ½ years, and Commander David H. Finney, U.S. Navy, from Logan County who was formerly Chief of the NASA Johnson Space Center Aircraft Operations Division in the Flight Crew Operations Directorate until his retirement. Many other veterans from the region have been recognized and honored over the years.
At this time there are 8 aircraft in the park – fully restored and on outdoor static display, the aircraft and those they honor are F-4D (Cherry), F-111F (Franklin), F9F-5 (Magda), T-33A-5 (Dougherty), T-38A(N) – (Wilcutt and Finney), VH-3 (Reynolds), J3 Cub (Brown) and UH-1P (Nutter).
Aviation Heritage Park is in the process of constructing an Aviation Museum within the park. The Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association is a partner in this project. In addition to AHP’s displays, the museum will be “Home of the River Rats,” featuring displays honoring combat fighter pilots.
As you can tell the park is an ever-changing scene that requires periodic visits. It is open daily from sunrise to sunset and there is no charge for admission or parking. Organizations are encouraged to contact us for details relative to scheduling a docent staffed tour of the park.