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Obituaries / R.C. 'Chappy' Czapiewski, 1929 - 2008

Teacher launched effort to create aviation museum

June 12, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

R.C. "Chappy" Czapiewski, a former high school science teacher who founded the Burbank Aviation Museum, died May 20 at his Toluca Lake home of complications related to old age, said Pam Mann, his longtime companion. He was 79.

With an ad placed in a local paper, Czapiewski sought out others interested in honoring and preserving aviation history in the San Fernando Valley. After 30 people showed up at the first meeting in 1991, he became the nonprofit organization's first president and set a goal -- still unrealized -- of creating a classic aviation museum in Burbank. On Sunday afternoons, the group puts exhibits on display at Valhalla Memorial Park, which is just south of Bob Hope Airport.

When he relocated from Virginia almost 30 years ago, Czapiewski became fascinated by the history of Skunk Works. The Lockheed Martin Corp. site that once employed as many as 90,000 people in Burbank had developed a host of famous, high-tech military planes such as the U-2 spy plane and the F-117 stealth fighter.

"That spiked his interest, and the fact that there's no history saved here," said Les Copeland, the museum's current president. "He was a very strong person who could teach you how to get things going."

A private dispute over Czapiewski's efforts to keep his World War II-era bomber, Heavenly Body, from being evicted from the Burbank airport led the museum board to fire him from the unpaid president's position in 1993. Unable to afford the parking fees, he had asked the Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena Airport Authority for help and brought media attention to his cause.

"They thought he was taking the museum down the wrong path" with the negative media coverage, Copeland said.

On his own, Czapiewski continued his aerospace activism, including campaigning unsuccessfully to prevent the demolition of the Skunk Works buildings in Burbank.

When a Lockheed spokeswoman fielded a question about Skunk Works from a Times reporter in 1997, she said, "Sounds like Chappy's been on the phone again."

Czapiewski remained unapologetic, saying: "We won the Cold War because of what was created in these buildings."

Robert Crispin Czapiewski was born in 1929 in Pittsburgh to Charles and Cecilia Czapiewski.

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War, then earned a bachelor's degree in forestry at Pennsylvania State University and a master's in education at George Washington University.

After teaching in Arlington, Va., he worked with the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Community Services Administration before moving to Southern California.

Czapiewski was divorced. In addition to Mann, his significant other of 27 years, he is survived by five children, six grandchildren and two sisters. A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City, 12355 Moorpark St.


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