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Here’s your last chance to see ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ plane before it goes in storage

Sunday could be the last chance for Charlotte residents and visitors to see the “Miracle on Hudson” plane for at least 2 1/2 two and a half years.

The plane – landed on the Hudson River by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in 2009, inspiring the movie “Sully” – is housed at the Carolinas Aviation Museum. The museum is closing temporarily Sunday as it searches for a new location.

Jessica Mallicote, vice president of advancement and marketing for the museum, said the museum plans to reopen in 2022.

The 40,000-square-foot hangar at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport that houses the museum and the famous plane is being re-purposed for private aviation needs to meet FAA requirements, the Observer reported in January.

It will be occupied by manufacturing tech company Honeywell for the company’s corporate aviation needs, Mallicote said. Honeywell announced its move to Charlotte in November.

“We’re working with the city and the airport to find a place to (house) the new museum,” Mallicote said. “We’re hoping it’ll be adjacent to the airport as that’s such a terrific backdrop.”

But the museum won’t be completely gone until its reopening, Mallicote said.

“We plan on providing a museum without walls concept,” she said. “And plan to continue serving the community without a physical location.”

The museum is developing outreach programs – focusing on reaching K-12 schools – that will be unveiled in the late summer or early fall.

copyMiracle on Hudson
Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger stands in front of the US Airways Flight 1549 fuselage at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in June 2011. He and other crew members met that year with passengers to recall their memorable water landing and to celebrate the plane’s arrival at the museum. They met again Jan. 15, 2019. Todd Sumlin tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Museum President Stephen Saucier he wants the programs to inspire kids to consider careers in aviation and aerospace.

“There is an incredible array of careers that are available to so many of our students,” Saucier said. “And we think this museum can directly affect the economic mobility of those in Charlotte by connecting them to those careers.”

The museum had about 75,000 visitors last year, 12,000 of which were part of school groups, Mallicote said.

Planning ahead

Getting the “Miracle on the Hudson” US Airways Flight 1549 plane — which was flying from New York to Charlotte when it hit a flock of geese and experienced engine failure — was a “game changer” for the museum, Saucier said.

The museum first catered to a small group of plane enthusiasts. But with the introduction of a nationally recognized exhibit, the museum’s audience grew, he said.

“It was much more than just a plane,” Saucier said. “It was about the stories of the survivors, the people who were able to walk away from that – the 155 passengers and crew.”

Katie Swaringen, vice president of education and collections, started working at the Carolinas Aviation Museum eight years ago – a month before the museum acquired the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane.

Now, Swaringen is helping arrange the plane’s storage for the next few years.

“Watching it go into storage is definitely a little bit of sadness,” she said, “because we know it won’t be on display for a couple of years and every day I see people get impacted by that visit. People get emotional, brought to tears.”

But she said a new location for the museum would allow the stories of that plane, and the rest of the museum’s collection – nearly 50 planes – to reach a bigger audience.

Saucier said the museum team has already designed a 75,000-square-foot space for the future, almost double the size of their current location. The museum is working with Freeman Ryan Design on planning for a new location.

“This is a rented hangar where we are right now,” he said. “The move out of here is a bit earlier than we expected but it’s all part of the plan.”

Saucier said the team was still in the planning phase, and declined to give a fundraising goal for the new building.

Mallicote said the museum is primarily funded through money made by earned revenue — including admissions fees, store sales and event rentals — but closing the physical location will cut down that revenue.

She said the museum will depend on money from corporate partners and public funding.

The museum will be shifting to essential employees only, she said. The Observer reported that in January the museum had 15 employees, along with volunteers.

And after Sunday, the planes at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, including the Miracle on the Hudson one, will go into storage at the airport.

“It’s like a big Jenga game of when each airplane can be moved and what needs to be taken apart,” Mallicote said.

Want to go?

“Miracle on the Hudson” US Airways Flight 1549 passenger Beth McHugh will be sharing her experience at the museum Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Charlotte Model A Club will be showing off historic cars at the museum Saturday.

The museum will be open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at 4672 First Flight Drive.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on aviation and health care. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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