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Tue, Feb 24, 2004

Southwest Airlines Donates Boeing 737 Section To Flight Museum

Donation Joins Museum Move

When the new Frontiers of Flight Museum (TX) opens this spring, one display will be the forward section of a Boeing 737-200 airplane donated by Southwest Airlines. Southwest, which makes its headquarters at Love Field, retired aircraft N102SW in late January and airline employees have volunteered to work in their off-time to get the section ready for the museum.

The donation comes as the 15-year-old museum prepares to move out of its old location, a 5,500-square-foot cranny in the Love Field terminal, to a new, $9 million, 100,000-square-foot, stand-alone building at 6911 Lemmon Ave. at the airport. Museum supporters are working to raise $16 million to fund programs, services and exhibits, which will be heavily focused on educating children about aviation. Southwest and its chairman, Herb Kelleher, have long been financial contributors to Frontiers of Flight, said Dan Hamilton, executive director of the museum.

"We had asked Southwest if they'd like to sponsor one of the exhibits," Hamilton said. "Herb Kelleher came back and said 'Instead of x dollars for that, I'll give you the front end of a real plane.' "

The donated plane entered service March 15, 1984, for Southwest Airlines. It flew its last three flights on Jan. 23 from Southwest's original three cities: Dallas to San Antonio, San Antonio to Houston, and Houston to Dallas, making its final landing at Love Field at 5:26 p.m. Capt. Milt Painter and first officer Eric Murer piloted the plane, according to Todd Painter, an airline spokesman.

The plane was retired because it had served its useful life, he said. Typically Southwest removes useable components, as well as the engine, then sells the retired jet, worth about $150,000, to a company that scraps the aluminum fuselage. Any re-usable parts, such as the flaps, rudder and parts of the wings called ailerons, are sold and returned to service, with the scrapping company sharing a portion of those profits with Southwest.

For this plane, Southwest has hired Washington-based repair and overhaul company Aero Controls Inc. to cut the nose from the fuselage. Aero Controls began the process Feb. 13 in a former Dalfort Aerospace L.P. hangar at Love Field.

"They have a team of five or six carpenters, bubble wrappers and mechanics," said Gary Bjarke, manager of maintenance contracts for Southwest. "They'll use a sort of chain saw to cut off the nose. We'll cut it a little long and then pretty it up for the museum." Bjarke and Mike Patterson, Southwest's head of maintenance control field technicians, are managing the project.

"Everything else that's being done to prepare this cockpit -- and it will include the galley and lavatory -- is going to be handled by our employees, our mechanics," Painter said. "It's a great way to give back to the community and have a presence at the museum."

Completion, which will take about six weeks, is being done in a Southwest maintenance hangar at Love Field. The museum's grand opening is set for May 21, Hamilton said. The cockpit, galley and lavatory will be the centerpiece of a 20,000-square-foot learning center illustrating aviation careers, said Painter.

FMI: www.flightmuseum.com

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