From humble beginnings in the early 1960s, the Bradley Air Museum (BAM) had grown from a mere idea to a professional operation. By the time of the tornado, it was thought to have the fourth-largest collection of its kind in the country, with approximately 120 historic aircraft on display and in storage.
Back then, the museum was located on the other side of the airport just off Route 75. The 4.5-acre outdoor display yard showcased bombers, transports, helicopters and a few smaller aircraft. Just a few minutes down the road, a 24,000 square-foot hangar dating from the Second World War housed the rest of the viewable collection.
Both sites, along with the museum’s restoration and storage buildings, were leased from the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT), and in early 1979 it was announced that those areas were needed for the airport’s continued expansion. The museum would be moved to a new 58-acre location on the western side of the airport (where we are now). That meant figuring out how to relocate all of the aircraft and raise funds to build on the new site, but it also represented a chance to start fresh.
By October, the museum had completed work on an ambitious new Master Plan for a multimillion-dollar complex at the new location, with spaces for exhibits, indoor and outdoor aircraft displays, and restoration facilities. With attendance increasing and a long-term plan for the museum’s growth and success in place, staff and volunteers were optimistic and excited for what 1980 would bring.