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Armament Museum opens Monday, expanding for new exhibits

Devon Ravine
Northwest Florida Daily News

When visitors return to the Air Force Armament Museum when it reopens Monday, they will notice some changes.

The 28,000-square-foot museum closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Guests still could access the museum’s outside grounds, which contain the majority of its estimated 30 aircraft, but the indoor exhibits were closed.

David Fitzpatrick, director of the Air Force Armament Museum, stands next to the museum's P-51 Mustang as he talks about improvements that have been made to the museum while it has been closed. The museum will have a new research library, a classroom and meeting space when it reopens Monday.

During the closure, museum staff and volunteers repainted the main floor with a sky-blue epoxy and repurposed two little-used rooms. A small theater on the ground floor was converted into a classroom and meeting space area, while a room along the upstairs balcony was transformed into a library for those wishing to do research on Eglin Air Force Base and the military.

Air Force Armament curators Tom Cason, left, and Jonathan Holmes work in the museum's new research library. The library will be available to visitors when the museum reopens Monday.

Perhaps the most dramatic change, however, is happening outside.

Since August, a construction crew has been building four large quonset huts on the north side of the museum. The iconic semi-cylindrical buildings were common sights on military installations beginning with World War II.

A crew with DAVWEN Design & Development, Inc. in Niceville works on one of four quonset huts that are going up at the Air Force Armament Museum.

“We chose quonset huts because they’re a military-related building,” Museum Director David Fitzpatrick said. “They’re also extremely low cost to maintain, operate and build.”

Fitzpatrick said that each of the four huts will have its own exhibit.

Those exhibits will focus on the histories of African Americans at Eglin Air Force Base, women in the Air Force, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and munitions development at the Air Force Research Lab.

In addition to the four quonset huts, Fitzpatrick said the museum has plans to build a wooden replica of the original headquarters for Eglin Air Force Base used during World War II.

As part of its first expansion in 30 years, the Air Force Armament Museum will be constructing a replica of this historic Eglin Air Force Base headquarters building which will used as an information center and gift shop.

The headquarters, which will be located near the AC-47 Spooky gunship display, will serve as an information center and gift shop for the museum.

This is the museum’s first expansion in 30 years, Fitzpatrick said. Together, the five buildings will add about 9,500 square feet of covered exhibit space and will be powered by solar panels that were installed on the roof of the main museum building earlier this year.

A crew with DAVWEN Design & Development, Inc. in Niceville works on one of four quonset huts that are going up at the Air Force Armament Museum.

“We’re hoping to have all five buildings completed with the exhibits ready to open in March,” said Fitzpatrick, who noted fundraising for the project is continuing.

"We’re very grateful to all of our generous donors,” Fitzpatrick said. “The museum is completely privately funded and it is donations that have allowed us to do the expansion.”

David Fitzpatrick, director of the Air Force Armament Museum, displays two of the signs that have been made to encourage social distancing among visitors when the museum reopens Monday.

Want to go?

Address: The museum is located alongside State Road 85, just south of Eglin Air Force Base.

Admission: Admission is free and the hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the reopening, the museum will be operating on limited capacity, allowing only 50 people inside the museum at a time. Visitors, employees and volunteers will be required to wear masks.