From jumping out of airplanes to keeping historic ones in pristine condition, 76-year-old Bruce Travis is connecting his vast aviation experience to educating the community and sharing his passion and knowledge.
That connection is a passion for Travis, who has spent most of his life surrounded by airplanes.
An Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, Travis now spends his days sharing his passion with generations of all people while the Carolinas Aviation Museum awaits a new home.
The Carolinas Aviation Museum opened at CLT in 1991. The collection has grown to more than 40 helicopters, commercial, military, and civil aircraft, including the most famous piece, Flight 1549 (Miracle on the Hudson).
Travis served as a volunteer at the museum for 11 years, the first nine as a guide. Since 2019, his focus is om maintaining the aircraft and keeping those as clean as possible. With many stationed outdoors, it is a challenge for Travis and the team of volunteers but they do it so visitors can enjoy the memorabilia once the museum reopens.
“We make sure the tires are full of air. We also plug all the openings to keep the insects away. The big part of the job is the rust and weather mitigation. We prevent corrosion and keep them in as good of condition as we can so our visitors can enjoy them when they return.”
It’s a labor of love for Travis, who has a degree in aerospace mechanical engineering and enjoyed a post Air Force career at Pratt & Whitney, where he helped designed engines for military F-15 and F-16 aircraft.
“I’ve always enjoyed airplanes, the history of them and would like to share it with others.”
Travis’ passion for aviation history came alive at the museum. There, he was able to recount his experiences with visitors, some of whom had lengthy layovers at CLT and ventured over to the museum to pass the time. He looks forward to doing that again soon.
“The most exciting part for me was sharing the history of airplanes, with young people in particular, but people of all ages,” Travis said. “We had a lot of senior citizens, a lot of veterans that either flew or maintained aircraft at some point.”
For Travis, the opportunity to educate the younger generation is what he looked forward to the most and what he misses as the museum awaits the community’s return. The museum focuses on Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) education and offers many other educational programs.
“We had some simulators that allowed us to teach them some basic skills and some appreciation for what the Wright Brothers and other aviation pioneers have done in America.”
When he is not at the museum’s hold site, Travis dabbles in his other favorite aviation-themed pastime: skydiving.
A member of the group Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS), Travis jumps out of planes once a week. While serving in the Air Force, he was on a combat control team as a parachute jumper attached to the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. As a recreational jumper, Travis has been a part of two current world records, one of which is the largest free flowing formation. In 2006 while in Thailand, Travis was on a 400-person team that formed in an assembly. He jumped into Kitty Hawk, N.C., on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight.
The museum has several artifacts dedicated to the Wright Brothers. As it awaits a new home on CLT property, Travis and others marvel at the historic hangar where the artifacts are stored. Built in 1937, it was the first hangar at CLT.
“It’s part of history. The founders of Charlotte wanted an airport. They built it and this was the original hangar.”
For Travis, the museum being on Airport property is an opportunity for guests to connect the early days of aviation to modern air travel.
“It’s very exciting,” Travis said. “It is great having it right here at the Airport. It gives you an appreciation for how important aviation is to the Charlotte community.”
Connections Don’t Just Happen at the Terminal, but they’re happening in CLT’s original hangar where Travis brings the past to life for aviation enthusiasts and future generations alike.
Learn more at cltairport.com/CLTconnects.