There's nothing like having Han Solo on your side if you're looking to expand an air and space museum. And Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum president Greg Anderson knows just how good that feels.
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Actor Harrison Ford, who pioneered the early Star Wars role, joined a handful of select business leaders March 4 at Centennial Airport to walk the future site of the museum's new Exploration of Flight facility.
The tour was part of the museum's Wingspan Capital Campaign, led by Ford and Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Wingspan is in the midst of a fundraising effort to secure $21 million dollars to build the 15-acre facility on the southeast side of the airport that will showcase a rotating collection of aircraft and historical artifacts.
Ford, a pilot and avid aviation advocate, lauded the museum's efforts to engage not only students, but parents and teachers as well.
"We often forget that when we reach out to children, we also reach out to their parents who vote for - or sometimes against - aviation benefits," Ford said. "Some don't understand the economic value an airport brings to a community, or the great benefits aviation has brought to this country."
The new facility, expected to open in mid-2015, will feature experience- and flight-based learning activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
Plans for the site also include a charter school.
"America is still an aerospace nation," said retired Air Force general and former Aurora Public Schools superintendent John Barry. "The last time this country saw a real explosion in science and math was back in the '60s and '70s - about the same time we saw an increase in the manufacturing of aircraft."
But as Ford noted, aviation has become somewhat of a "political football," and supporters "need to step up and advocate for the value it brings to all."
A 2013 economic impact study conducted by the Colorado Division of Aeronautics linked more than 6,700 jobs, $404 million in payroll and $1.3 billion in total economic impact to the operation of Centennial Airport.
"We can't expect airplanes hanging from the ceiling to tell the (aviation) story we want told," Ford said. "We also need to take the opportunity to engage it ... this project, these people, all of us, have an opportunity to tell the story of the benefits of aviation."
Ford earned his pilot's certificate in 1996 and is the former chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles, a program launched to give interested young people the chance to fly in a general aviation aircraft. Ford has flown more than 280 Young Eagles since 2001.
For more information on the project, visit www.explorationofflight.org.
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