The Piper Aviation Museum Foundation was formed to preserve the history and legacy of the Piper Aircraft Corporation and its founding family. The museum displays aircraft fuselages, provides a narrative history of the corporation, and offers an archive for students and scholarly researchers.
The Piper Aviation Museum is located at the William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. The facility is named for William T. Piper, an American manufacturer of small aircraft, who is best known for the Piper Cub, a single-engine, two-seat aircraft that became the most popular family aircraft in the 1930s and was widely used as a training and photoreconnaissance plane during World War II. For his efforts to popularize air travel and personal plane ownership (with the Cub becoming known as "the plane that taught America to fly") and because he led a manufacturing company that made more planes than any other in the world, Piper earned the nickname "The Henry Ford of Aviation."
The current structure of the Piper Aviation Museum can be traced to its incorporation as a nonprofit educational organization by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1995. Soon thereafter the organization purchased the former engineering building of the Piper Corporation, a 56,000-square-foot structure, which now serves as home to the museum. The exhibits are both text-based and artifact-based, with one wing of the building narrating (through text displays and videos) the history of William T. Piper, his company, and his aircraft. Another wing of the building displays the various iterations of the Cub, from its earliest type as a "family plane" to its outfitting for military use as the L4-A Grasshopper. An entire hangar space is devoted to hanging fuselages of these planes, other important Piper trainer models such as the PT-1, and other mass-produced models such as the Cherokee, the Aztec, and the Cheyenne. (Piper did have a tendency to name aircraft in honor of disappearing Native American peoples.)
A research-based part of the museum houses an archive, primarily focused on collecting materials of the Piper Aircraft Corporation from 1935 to 1984. Books, photographs, slides, manuscripts, technical manuals, and subject vertical files are the major categories of the data. All materials are curated by an aviation historian, and a team of volunteers take requests for information or research assistance. A project to digitize the archive's photographic slide collection was completed in August 2010; copies of these are available for a donation.
In June of every year since 1984, when the museum opened, the Lock Haven Airport (which houses the Piper Museum) holds the Sentimental Journey Fly-In. Over the course of one weekend, close to one hundred Piper aircraft, but especially the beloved Cub, fly to the airport--some even coming from across the country. These owners and pilots share stories, watch flying demonstrations, visit the museum, and sleep under the wings of their aircraft, parked on the grass of this tiny airport, "where it all began."