WARREN, Ohio — Bill Griffin grew up surrounded by airplanes. His father, Art, had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling of their home and in the garage, and the family’s backyard adjoined the runway to one of the most legendary pilots in early aviation.
No, not one of the Wright brothers.
But the man who once owned the runway was trained by the Wright brothers, and even bought a plane from them — marked Serial No. 2.
That man was Ernie Hall, a pioneer in aviation who focused on training other pilots — more than 6,000 over his career as a flight instructor.
Hall trained pilots for both world wars, and various other military and civilian pilots. He earned his own pilot’s license in about 1906, and in 1915, he opened his own flight school, in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania.
In 1923, Hall moved his flight school to the Trumbull County community of Howland, where he continued to teach people to fly until his death in 1972.
At that time, Griffin was only about 10 years old, but the seeds of aviation had already been planted.
Building a dream
About five years ago, Griffin, now 51, bought an airfield just outside of Warren, Ohio, and had a museum built on site to replicate the airplane hangar that Hall used for his flying school.
Known as the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum, it stands as a testament to a man who helped teach thousands to fly — and was once known as the world’s oldest active pilot.
“He started flying way back in the day with the Wright brothers, so he was one of the first few people to actually fly solo,” said Griffin.
The museum, which opened in September of 2014, houses various aircraft and memorabilia related to Hall’s career, including special awards he was given. He was hired as Ohio’s first flight ambassador, and he was given a plane to fly to various municipalities and townships across the state to help them set up their own airports and runways.
According to Griffin, Hall also trained some famous people, including Jimmy Doolittle, who received a Medal of Honor for leading the Doolittle Raid against Japan.
Hall also built some of his own planes (from specs) and some of his planes are displayed today in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, and the Henry Ford Museum.
Hall’s connections to early flight seem endless, but his name often goes unrecognized, even in his home county.
“He’s kind of been forgotten around here just because he died so long ago that only the old-timers remember him,” Griffin said.
But Griffin wants to change that — not only for Ernie Hall, but for others who have devoted their life to aviation and flying. His museum features memorabilia from Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, the Spruce Goose, and the USS Akron airship.
The 31-acre property also features additional hangars, and a runway known as the Sloas Airfield. Griffin and a board of officers operate the museum as a nonprofit, and hold weekend hours and special events throughout the year.
It’s a small museum, compared to other airplane museums, and holds only about five planes. But there is something special in every corner, and against every wall, including a wall of Griffin’s own relatives, who served in World War II and the Korean War.
The museum is easy to spot along North River Road, and contrary to the “Hall Flying School” printed across the front, the museum doesn’t actually offer flight school — at least not yet. Griffin hopes to eventually teach a technique called tailwheel flying.
The museum is supported by four board members, and various corporate and community sponsors. Its feature event is the Wings-n-Wheels day, a large car and aviation show held in August. Last year’s event brought 127 airplanes, more than 700 hot rod and classic cars, and more than 5,000 people.
As president, Griffin finds himself working at the museum on a regular basis, but he enjoys teaching others about aviation — and the surprise visitors he gets.
In the past, he’s had people stop on their birthday and want to go on a plane ride. And he’s had others, including a 95-year-old man, who were at the end of life and wanted the experience of flying in a small plane.
When he can, Griffin tries to grant those experiences.
As he puts it, the museum was built “to honor those who have done something with aviation — especially the people who have done it for their whole life.”
Ernie Hall was one of those people, and the museum is a way of keeping their contributions alive.