Tours are ‘Rich’ and Unique from Docent Rich Green at Wings of Eagles Discovery Center
by Stacey Brown
Guided tours at Wings of Eagles Discovery Center are primarily based upon the aircraft within the Discovery Center’s collection, however that doesn’t mean you can’t have an interest in other areas to enjoy a tour at Wings of Eagles. One of the Discovery Center’s docents, Rich Green, works hard to give each visitor a tour based on the aspects of aviation history that appeals to them. From veterans who want to reminisce and share their own experiences while serving, to children full of questions, to disabled visitors who want to interact with the items on display, Green shares his knowledge to make everyone’s visit enjoyable.
Green, who started volunteering for the Discovery Center in 1997, served 10 years in the US Navy where he spent time as a Surface Warfare Officer and in the Navy’s Recruiting Command during the 1970s. His time on land, primarily in Norfolk, VA, and serving aboard the USS Columbus (CA-74), a guided missile cruiser, provided him with the base knowledge he uses today when giving a tour. This knowledge is especially useful when veterans come to tour the museum. “It becomes a give and take experience” says Green, “it’s like a symbiotic relationship forms where we can learn from one another because they are able to provide real life experiences for things I’ve only read about and I can do the same for them.”
For instance, Green recently had a local veteran visit that grew up in Owego and now lives in Corning. The visitor and his four brothers had served during World War II at different locations around the globe. As a member of the Navy’s Construction Battalion, or SeaBees, the visitor served a large amount of time in the South West Pacific Theater including the country of Australia where he helped build a hospital near Sydney. Because of research he had done and because of stories he had heard from other visitors, Green not only knew some of the islands where the visitor had served but he was also able to empathize and understand the experiences the visitor had had during his time in service.
Veterans are not the only type of visitors that come to experience the collection at Wings of Eagles Discovery Center. Quite frequently families with children come to see what the Discovery Center has to offer. “Young people are great to do tours for when they ask questions” says Green. What Green finds works best with young minds is relating items to one another in order to move ideas forward. Finding similar items like the torpedo tubes or country insignia on different aircraft makes the items easier to remember because of the reinforcement. Presenting information in this manner allows young people to remember relationships better than obscure facts.
In some cases however, answering and asking questions isn’t always an easy task. Several weeks ago a family from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France visited. The family spoke both French and German and the father was fluent in English. The family’s eldest son spoke some English but the youngest spoke none. “We quite frequently have visitors from other countries” says Green, “and the language barrier isn’t always as hard to overcome as you would think.” Since this family spoke French a lot of the aircraft terms were familiar to them. Green attributes this to the fact that French was the language of science when airplanes were first being developed. Terms like fuselage, aileron and empennage all come from the French language.
Not only can languages be different, but visitors may be more accustomed to one measurement system than another. Green gives each visitor to the Discovery Center a brief overview of the metric system compared to the English measurement system before proceeding with his tour. Green grew up building model airplanes so he understands the importance of being able to convert from one to the other.
Green’s desire to make a tour interesting to everyone that visits goes beyond an intellectual level in some cases. The Discovery Center often receives tour groups from Pathways, Inc., a local not-for-profit human service organization that provides children, adults, and families with specialized programs and services in developmental disabilities, mental health, family support, traumatic brain injury, and child care. “These individuals have varying ability levels but they need to and want to participate” says Green. When going from station to station in the Discovery Center’s collection, Green allows the visitors to touch as much as possible, but when they use the HotSeat flight simulator they really become engaged. “They can fly things like ultralights that don’t require the use of the foot pedals or I can sit in the seat and take off in an aircraft and then let them control either the pitch or the throttle to change the plane’s position in the air” says Green. Some of the visitors from Pathways, Inc. are able to sit in the seat of the simulator and do more of the flying on their own, but either way they are able to experience flight in a safe manner.
With such a diverse population of visitors it is easy to see how every artifact in the Discovery Center’s collection can blossom into different pathways depending on the visitor’s interest. “I’m not going to spend time talking about the cubic inch displacement of a radial engine if the visitor isn’t interested in learning about it” Green says. In the Discovery Center’s new location he finds that the Ohka, MiG-21 and F-4 have become the highlights of the tour because of their rich aerodynamic and political history. The UH-1H Huey is also very popular because visitors are able to sit inside the aircraft. Green finds that the Discovery Center’s resources in addition to the aircraft help reinforce and illustrate concepts he would not otherwise be able to provide. The addition of a library in the Discovery Center’s new location and the models of aircraft and aircraft carriers on hand allow Green to give a visual reference point to someone having trouble understanding a concept by just hearing about it. The uniforms on hand are also a good resource. Green says, “I had a young person here today who was about six years old and I put him in a flak vest and put a helmet on him and then raised the visor screen so he could see and he thought that was a lot of fun.”
Although Green tries to give every visitor a comprehensive tour of the site, occasionally a visitor will be extremely interested in one aspect. “In that case I encourage people to return at a later time to spend time just learning about the subject they’re interested in” says Green. “I’m more than happy to sit and spend as much time as someone wants learning about any item here at the Discovery Center.” Whether someone makes one or more trips to the Discovery Center it’s clear that Green enjoys what he does and truly tries his hardest to make every person’s experience worthwhile when they visit Wings of Eagles Discovery Center.