In describing the museum’s Vega, McGuire used the phrase “a mere mock-up produced for the movie. Unlike the Vega, which doesn’t even have an engine, Muriel has all original equipment. I have always resisted taking her to a restoration shop, where they would replace most of her parts with others made of new materials.
“It’s too late anyway,” she said. “One morning I arrived at the Annex, and they were using an air hose to blow the floor dust right at my aircraft. It was getting into everything; I mean, really awful stuff.” She complained that someone had gone into the plane’s cabin and left the door ajar. She said they also took off covers that had been placed over the inner workings of the wings. Without the covers, these workings would be exposed during travel. “The sanding dust has gotten into everything,” McGuire said. “I don’t yet know how much damage has been done to the engines.”
There are approximately 50 volunteers who work at the Annex. For an alternate perspective, I spoke with one of them, who requested anonymity for fear of losing his job. The volunteer said he can see both sides. On the one hand, McGuire comes across as very opinionated and talks to people as if she is the only one who knows anything about the L-10E Electra engine. The plane’s “round” engines, he said, were built onto other planes, including one that sits behind the Annex. “Any licensed airplane engine mechanic can work on them, and there are plenty of those mechanics in San Diego.” What happened to McGuire, he said, is that several mechanics, when offered the job, turned her down.
Nevertheless, the volunteer believes that the treatment McGuire received at the hands of the Air and Space Museum was despicable. “Her plane,” he said, “should never have been put in where that spray-painting was going on so close. All the volunteers at the Annex were very surprised when the Vega was put into that hangar for painting. The overspray from that job covered most everything in there, including lathes, drill presses, and other mechanics’ tools.
“There is a small garage attached to the hangar that is normally used as a painting booth. It’s where almost all our painting is done. In fact, there is a law that spray-painting must be done in a painting booth, not in a bigger building, or even outdoors. I think what happened is that Grace’s attitude irritated the staff, and they retaliated.”
I phoned Jim Kidrick, the Air and Space Museum’s president. After listening to McGuire’s complaint, Kidrick would say only, “I wish her well on her project.”
It could be there were misunderstandings when McGuire and Kidrick agreed to cooperate. But whose were they? Did McGuire imagine she would get more than she was actually promised? Her treatment at the Annex might suggest that Kidrick thought of the Air and Space Museum as providing her only the most minimal help.
The San Diego page of AmericanTowns.com tells a different story. On September 5, the site posted the following (which reads like a press release): “from: San Diego Air and Space Museum.” Several paragraphs follow. The first opens: “On Saturday, September 5, The San Diego Air & Space Museum is scheduled to receive Muriel, a sister airplane to the one Amelia Earhart flew on her final flight 72 years ago. The Museum will assist with assembly and restoration of the Lockheed Electra L10-E for Grace McGuire, an aviator with hopes of completing Amelia’s dream of flying around the world.”
Meanwhile, I paid a second visit to Muriel, which now looks much better. And McGuire is enjoying more of the welcome mat at Gillespie Field. She says that Peter Drinkwater, San Diego County’s director of airports, has visited her and offered to “do anything he can to help me.”