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Wednesday, June 19, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Museum of Flight's expansion takes wing

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Museum of Flight broke ground yesterday on a new wing devoted to the sacrifices of fighter pilots during the great wars.

The Personal Courage Wing will house more than two dozen aircraft, including a World War I-era Fokker Triplane and a World War II-era General Motors FM-2 Wildcat, which were unveiled yesterday.

Eventually, the wing will include 23 planes from the Champlin Fighter Aircraft Museum of Mesa, Ariz. The collection was assembled over 30 years by Nevada businessman Doug Champlin and acquired by the Tukwila museum in 2000.

The 88,000-square-foot wing is the first of a three-part expansion plan that will more than double the size of the museum over the next decade.

Visitors to the new wing will hear stories of battles and dogfights in pilots' voices and experience what it might have felt like to walk on a battlefield or an aircraft carrier.

"These planes were built less than 10 or 11 years after the first flight of the Wright brothers," said the museum's president and chief executive, Ralph Bufano. "They (the fighters) were learning about flight. We want to get that wonder of flight out to tell the personal flight stories and hopefully that will excite people about the future of aviation."

Museum officials said the museum has raised $38.8 million toward the estimated $59.3 million project, and is still raising the remaining funds.

Elissa Lines, director of development and marketing for the museum, said the museum needs community support to move forward with the project.

"The museum is about more than a display of aircraft," she said. "Aviation is just a thrilling topic. It's the story of human triumph over challenges that seemed daunting. This is a story of bravery. These tales of history help us tell a story to our children."

The Red Barn Pavilion, the second phase of the master expansion plan, will be launched after the personal courage wing. The Red Barn is the wooden factory building that was the birthplace of Boeing. The plan is to enclose it and preserve it. An education center will be part of the phase.

The final phase will be a Commercial Aviation Wing and will include the prototypes of the Boeing 727, 737 and 747 airliners.

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