Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum and Memorial Airport
Though the scars of wars past fade with time, memories of camaraderie and heroism are kept alive by the venerable veterans who volunteer at the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum and Memorial Airport.
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(This story originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Colorado Life Magazine)
JUST OUTSIDE THE entrance to Pueblo Memorial Airport sits a Boeing B-47 Stratojet, imposing and shiny with swept back wings, baking in the strong southeast Colorado sun. It was a specialized, utilitarian plane – notice there are no windows in the fuselage, just a clear bubble in front where the pilots sit, perched high on top. For the crew inside, there was no outside view, just blind speeding through space.
When it was created, the B-47 flew at speeds as fast as fighter jets, making it a choice aircraft during the early Cold War. It flew as fast as the Soviet MIG of the time, often running reconnaissance over the Soviet Union and then speeding away before it could be overtaken. This strategy worked well most of the time, but not always; sometimes they were caught.
“Two MIGs came in right behind us,” remembers Dr. R.J. Schultz, a guide and longtime member of the Pueblo Historical Aircraft Society. “Our B-47 was flying flat out, about the same speed as the MIGs, and we only had one gun, in the tail.” It must have been a tense moment, the three planes flying at top speed in a high-stakes game of life and death. Schultz was inside the plane with no window to see what was happening. With only one gun, the odds weren’t good when up against the Soviets’ most modern fighter jets.
But it turned out well for the Americans. “The pilot looked over his shoulder to aim and fired. He hit one MIG and the other one left,” Schultz said. “That was a lucky day.”
The B-47 is identical to the plane in which Schultz was flying that day as an Air Force medical doctor, but his tale is just one of the hundreds of fascinating stories among the military men and historical aircraft that make up the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum. The museum has become the most visible symbol of Pueblo’s long and distinguished history of supporting America’s military.
In 1972, Fred Weisbrod, then Pueblo city manager and an ex-Marine, started to act on his belief that someone needed to preserve historic military aircraft, many of which were simply being chopped up to sell as scrap metal. He persuaded other Pueblo city government officials, and they started to collect planes. Weisbrod had good connections with the Navy, so many of the planes initially came from that branch of the military.
Lacking facilities at first, the aircraft sat outside the Pueblo airport for years and started to decay, pieces of the planes steadily disappearing into the light fingers of thieves. Concerned about the condition of the planes, a group of local veterans formed the PHAS in 1985 to help the city protect the fleet. The city gratefully accepted, and the veterans started to protect the planes and to collect more aviation artifacts. Now, 27 years later, the aircraft society’s veterans have created the expansive aircraft museum, an historical treasure and a testament to tenacity.
The museum sits on land owned by the city, a site that formerly served the United States during World War II as the Pueblo Army Air Base. Here pilots trained for the European theater and to serve as flight instructors for other military flight schools around the country. The skies of southeast Colorado reverberated with the power of the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and the B-29 Superfortress.
When the base closed after the war, Pueblo moved the city airport to this site to take advantage of the excellent runways built by the military. Over the years, the city gradually sold off or tore
down the military buildings, though the site remained hallowed ground for some veterans.
Schultz worked in one of the old base buildings for 25 years after it was moved to downtown Pueblo. A retired career Air Force flight surgeon now, he has volunteered at the museum just as long, one of a core number of volunteers who have made Weisbrod’s dream a reality.
Since 1985, the PHAS has worked tirelessly to improve the facilities, and today the museum fills two full-size aircraft hangars with aircraft and airmen exhibits. The group built the first hangar in 2001 and another in 2011 by raising $2 million through 26 years of persistent fundraising, generating funds little by little through membership dues, gift shop sales, grant writing, and donations from the city and county. To date, the museum hasn’t received any money from the U.S. military.