Replica of historic racing plane unveiled at Patterson museum

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

A historic racing airplane replica, which completes the full line of Wedell-Williams racers on display, was unveiled Tuesday night at the Louisiana State Museum-Patterson with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne on hand for the event.
The replica WW-22 was handcrafted by historic aircraft modeler Jim Clevenger of Kissimmee, Fla., who built four other models on exhibit at the Patterson museum — the WW-44, WW-45, WW-92 and WW-121.
“You have a heck of a collection here,” Clevenger said. “You people in Patterson should be proud.”
Jerry Adams, a local board member of the Louisiana State Museum Foundation, said the addition of the replica puts Patterson in a one-of-a-kind position.
“Patterson is the only place in the world that has a replica of each of the Wedell-Williams racer models. People need to know that and should be proud of that,” Adams said.
The event, attended by over 100 people, also occasioned the recognition of Stephen Halperin, of Tampa, Fla., who formally donated the WW-121 replica to the museum in December after having allowed it to stay on loan in Patterson.
“This is my grandfather’s dream to see this airplane (WW-121) here,” said Halperin’s 10-year-old grandson, Noah Halperin.
Sandwiched between the recently donated replica and the newest museum addition is a red WW-44 that Clevenger said dominated the Golden Age of Aviation. The plane put Patterson on the aviation map by being the fastest plane in the world and the first to break the 300 miles-per-hour mark, he said.
The WW-44 was the most famous and most prevalent racer of the era, the chairman of the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Foundation, Lee Felterman, said. The plane won many air races with trophies from some of those races on display at the museum.
But the real star of the show Tuesday night was the WW-22 replica that has found a home in Patterson. The original WW-22 was built in 1932 by Louisiana aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry P. Williams for whom the Patterson airport is named.
While some replicas are able to be flown, the WW-22 replica, which took two years to build, cannot be flown, Felterman said.
Dardenne called the collection of airplanes in the museum a treasure that demonstrates Louisiana has a passion for more than food and music as the state has shown a passion for history and aviation as well.
Louisiana’s place in aviation history began in Patterson and continued with the birth of Delta Airlines in Monroe and the building of key components to NASA space exploration at Michoud, Dardenne said.
The museum is “an important part of our heritage,” Dardenne said and a “beautiful job was done on these magnificent planes.”
Stephen Halperin was unable to attend the event but his son, David, spoke on his behalf and said this was an emotional event for the family as they were recognized for their official donation of the WW-121.
“It is time to quit flying for my dad and this is the right place for this airplane. This is where it belongs,” he said.
His wife, Sylvia, said the pair and their son Noah had flown to the event in their Malibu airplane, which had landed at Patterson’s Harry P Williams Memorial Airport.
The unveiling event capped a 35-year effort by Wedell-Williams Memorial Aviation Foundation volunteers and donors to replicate each air racer built by the Patterson-based Wedell-Williams Air Service Company between 1929 and 1933.
The St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce and Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau partnered with the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Foundation to sponsor the reception. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free.

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