MAPS Air Museum seeks to tell stories of people, not just aircraft

by Ken Evans

In the far southeast corner of Summit County, nestled behind the Akron-Canton Airport, lies the Military Aircraft Preservation Society (MAPS) Air Museum. Not only is it a hub for exploring the history of U.S. military aviation, but MAPS also focuses on Ohioans who served in the military, especially in times of war. 

According to Doug Perry — the MAPS Air Museum Marketing Director, as well as a tour guide, Instagramer, and volunteer — the museum’s mission is to tell the stories of people, not just aircraft.  

“To me, personally, the aircraft are props,” Doug says. “The real history lies in the people: The people who flew them, the people who built them, the people who maintained them, supported them, the people waiting for them back home. These aircraft allow me to tell those stories.”

Growing out of the efforts of veterans and military aviation enthusiasts looking to restore old aircraft to flight-ready conditions, MAPS started in 1990 with a core group of 14 members from the local Akron-Canton Ace of Spades wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a national group dedicated to the repair and preservation of military aircraft. Through a series of educational partnerships and a desire to share the stories behind the planes, the museum took shape. 

However, restoring aircraft to flight readiness was cost-prohibitive. Doug says that goal had to be abandoned to prioritize education efforts. 

Over the past 30 years, MAPS has grown from just one aircraft to more than 50, and from an unheated garage to a large hanger that used to house the Air National Guard 112th Fighter Bomber Squadron. 

To sustain this growth, MAPS Air Museum has called upon a dedicated group of volunteers that make the museum a reality. Doug emphasizes that, for those involved, MAPS is a labor of love. “There are only two full-time and two part-time people here that are actually on the payroll. Everybody else is volunteers,” he says. “We turn in around 58,000 to 59,000 volunteer hours every year here. That’s one of the ways we keep the place open.” 

Of those volunteers, about 90% are veterans, but MAPS takes anyone who is interested and willing to donate even a little time. This commitment allows MAPS to operate a large and elaborate facility on a small budget. Doug points out proudly that MAPS is completely debt-free. 

Inside MAPS, visitors find aircraft ranging from the very beginnings of flight to modern advanced fighter jets recently retired from service. The Martin Glider, is a gem of the collection. Once hanging in the Smithsonian next to the Spirit of Saint Louis, the 1908 Martin Glider was an early experiment into mono-wing flight. It also holds the distinction of possibly being the first aircraft piloted by a woman in the United States. Doug explains: “We do know that Mrs. Martin flew it many times in 1909. As far as we know, Mrs. Martin was the first American woman to fly a heavier-than-air machine, and the second woman in history to fly a heavier-than-air machine.” 

Editor’s Note: The Spirit of Saint Louis, named above, was initially wrongly identified as the Wright Flyer. This error was corrected on March 11.

Visitors can get up and close with legendary bomber aircraft like the Martin B-26B “Marauder” and the Douglas A-26C “Invader,” or famous fighter jets like a McDonnell F-101F “Voodoo” and a Grumman F-14B “Tomcat.” They even have a painstakingly recreated WWI Sopwith Triplane “Tripehound.” 

“The vast majority of our aircraft are on loan to us by the different military branches or military museums — the Marine Corps Museum, for example,” Doug says. “We get some of our planes from the Air Force Museum in Dayton. Our reputation is out there, so we can do that kind of thing. Some of the aircraft here are privately owned, some we own, and some are on loan to us from MRC [Military Restoration Corporation].” 

Visitors can climb into many of the aircraft on display, offering a chance to directly connect with the physical reality of these machines — or just an opportunity to play with a near-endless supply of buttons. Akronites, in particular, might enjoy stepping into the gondola of Goodyear’s “Spirit of Akron” blimp, offering a chance to dream of being part of an iconic Akron tradition that few have directly experienced.

The Gallery of Heroes, which explores the impact of individual veterans, groups, and events, details the personal stories of war. Here you find elaborately decorated “trench art” shells, a detailed exploration of Rosie the Riveter, or the bomber jackets of local women WWII pilots. 

Upstairs is the Ohio Military Museum, dedicated to the soldiers of Ohio and Ohio Medal of Honor Recipients. Doug pointed out Robert A. Pinn. Born in Massillon, Pinn was a Black soldier and a first sergeant during the Civil War. He won a Medal of Honor for taking command of his unit after all the officers were killed during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. 

“The first person to die in the American Revolution that created this country was a young Black man. One-fifth of the fighting forces in the Revolutionary War were Black men, and one-tenth of the fighting forces in the Civil War were Black men,” Doug says. “But their history is not always told.”

In the Galley of Heroes and near the museum entrance are a number of small but significant war memorials that try to capture the cost of war. The first memorial, and the one that makes MAPS an official U.S. War Memorial, is a piece of the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the attack of Pearl Harbor. Honoring those who died in the Vietnam War is a wooden tree adorned with the dog tags of soldiers from Ohio. 

The newest memorial is the “Fallen Feathers Memorial.” Consisting of hand-carved eagle feathers for each of the Ohio soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, this memorial contains layers of symbolism and offers a deeply personal remembrance of those lost. 

Even some of the aircrafts serve to honor those who were lost in training accidents.

Despite these memorials, MAPS Air Museum is not an overly somber place. It’s a place where history can be preserved, celebrated and remembered. It is easy to find a volunteer or visitor that worked on or flew military aircraft.

Doug likes to point out a plaque that hangs over the door for visitors as they leave, which reads, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 

Visit MAPS Air Museum at 2260 International Pkwy, North Canton, OH 44720. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 9 am-4:30 pm and Sunday 11:30 am-4 pm. Admission is $10 for adults, with discounts for veterans, seniors and kids. Active-duty military personnel and WWII veterans can visit for free.

Ken Evans is currently serving Akron as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Middlebury. Outside of writing for The Devil Strip, he enjoys history, science, nature and overly long political discussions. 

Photo: Ken Evans