The celebration kicked off funding for proposed expansion
PASO ROBLES — The Estrella Warbirds Museum celebrated 30 years of preserving and hosting aviation history on Saturday, Oct. 15. The celebration honored the museum’s beginnings, remembered late aviator Sherman Smoot, and kicked off funding for the museum’s proposed western expansion.
Museum Board President John Couch said the event was set to “honor those who started the museum: Glen Thomson and Gary Corippo, who started the museum 30 years ago and then developed it into what it is today, but we are maxing out on our space.”
The museum began as an idea between the two pilots, Corippo and Thomson, who wanted to build an aviation museum in their hometown of Paso Robles. They originally started as the Estrella Squadron and by January 2000, had grown enough to become the Estrella Warbird Museum, Inc.
The Estrella name comes from the World War II Estrella Army Air Force Base — now the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. Since its establishment, the museum has been dedicated to restoring and preserving military aircraft, vehicles and memorabilia to those who flew and worked on military aircraft.
Their mission statement has always been “not to glorify conflict but rather to make a future generation aware of the fact our way of life does not come without sacrifice.”
Over the years, the museum has expanded to accommodate its growing exhibits of aircraft and vehicles. While they do not own any of the flyable aircraft, the museum leases out space to house them and in turn give the public access to view the pieces of history.
The live auction at the anniversary celebration began fundraising for the museum’s proposed expansion on the 10 acres next to them currently leased to the museum by the City of Paso Robles.
“We were honoring those who got us to this point and then we were seeking donations and partners to be able to work with us to develop those 10 acres,” said Couch.
Originally set to speak on behalf of the proposed expansion was Sherman Smoot. In September, Smoot died in a plane accident while piloting his Yakovlev Yak-11, named “Czech Mate,” in preparation for the upcoming Reno Air Races.
“Sherm is the one who gave birth to the vision of developing of the west side,” Couch explained.
Smoot’s vision for the expansion was to build additional hangers to house and preserve current and future flyable aircraft as well as additional space for exhibits and meeting halls.
“They [flyable aircraft] are such an integral part of our program,” says Couch. “We want to be able to preserve them and house larger aircraft as well.”
To speak on behalf of Smoot was longtime friend of Smoot and the museum, Dr. Ben Lambeth.
Following a tribute to Smoot, Lambeth shared his late friend’s vision for the expansion.
“They spoke the same language. Sherm had shared his vision with Ben many times … couldn’t think of anyone better to share Sherm’s vision than Ben,” said Couch.
Couch further explains their hope with the expansion is to rotate displays with other aviation museums and introduce new aircraft to its visitors. The expansion is currently in the engineering and planning stage, but as more funds are raised for the project, Couch and his team hope to move forward to new stages.
While Couch and his team don’t have official numbers raised from the auction yet, he feels it was extremely successful. He also thanks volunteers for their work with the museum, as the museum relies heavily on volunteer docents.
“We are eager to move forward with building our expansion project. We really are dedicated to preserving these artifacts; we consider them national treasures,” said Couch. “We want to be able to preserve them in honor of those who worked on them and flew them.”
You can find more information on the Estrella Warbirds Museum here ewarbirds.org/index.html