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Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino Moves Forward During Pandemic

 

THE MUSEUM’S Mitsubishi A6M5 “Zero” (bottom) flies in formation with their F4U “Corsair” and P-38 “Lightning” (top).  These aircraft fly regularly at the Museum at special Living History events and at the Museum’s annual Airshow.

 

BY LAURIE HANSON

Soaring above present-day challenges, the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino moves forward while stepping back into history.

After facing tough times and decisions due to the pandemic, the historical air museum opens six of seven historical aircraft hangers to the public, its Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress,” and plans to resume its annual airshow later this year.

The hangers are open new days and hours Thursdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the Boeing B-17 open Saturdays and Sundays. Their annual airshow has been rescheduled to October after cancelation last year due to the coronavirus. Another casualty is a smaller branch of the museum located near the Grand Canyon in Arizona that remains closed until further notice.

“Planes of Fame Air Museum is currently in its 64th year of operation,” said Director of Education Programs and Museum Development Brian Finnegan. “We are considered one of the better aviation museums in the world, and this is reinforced through visitors who come from all corners of the globe to see our collection.”

Annual attendance between the two museums and annual airshow is more than 150,000 people each year, according to Finnegan.

 

THE B-17 “Flying Fortress,”  visitors to the Museum can visit and go inside the aircraft on weekends.  Docents will explain the role that the B-17 played as a heavy bomber during World War II and the strategic bombing missions in Europe.

 

 

“We are unique in that we are a flying museum – restoring aircraft on-site so that current and future generations may enjoy and understand the important role that these aircraft played in our history,” he explained. “Part of our responsibility is to introduce and inspire younger visitors to the world and opportunities found in aviation.”

For many younger museum visitors, the field of aviation is not well understood or is taken for granted. It is the museums’ goal to bring greater awareness about the field and how it plays an active role in their lives with it being a possible future profession or leisure activity, said Finnegan.

The Planes of Fame Air Museum is on a 14-acre campus at Chino Airport in San Bernardino and is home to about 100 aircraft with many restored to flight, flying semi-regularly. The museum offers displays and exhibits, a research library, and a model room with several thousand scaled-down, extremely rare aircraft models and unbuilt kits. There is also a theater and an Aviation Discovery Center where families can engage in hands-on learning.

The Grand Canyon museum in Arizona is made up of a diversified collection of about 40 aircraft from World War II vintage planes to many more modern home-built aircraft. Memorabilia from military, commercial, and general aviation are on display in several exhibits, but for now the museum remains closed indefinitely due to the pandemic.  

“Covid-19 continues to impact our business,” Finnegan said. “It devastated us through the loss of revenue.”

“We lost our airshow (typically held in May) in 2020 and have had to reschedule it for 2021,” he explained. “We lost attendance as we were closed for several months. We are still unable to host large gatherings such as our Living History Flying Day events, and we have not been able to rent out our facility to private events such as weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations.”

In fact, for many months the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino could only open as an “Outdoor Experience,” which only allowed the public to view aircraft from outside looking in, while visiting at a discounted rate.

“Although many people visited, it was still less than what most of our visitors are accustomed to experiencing,” Finnegan said.

As a result of COVID-19, precautions are in place where all visitors must wear facial coverings and maintain six-feet social distance from those outside their immediate household. Their B-17 is also sanitized after each group visit as well.

 

 

P-38 LIGHTNING at the air show. The aircraft fly regularly at the Museum at special Living History events and at the Museum’s annual Airshow.

 

“At some point, when the COVID-19 pandemic reaches a point where we can conduct interior presentations, we will return to our ‘Living History Flying Days,’” he said. “These events [are] typically on the first Saturday of each month [with] several also on mid-month Saturdays. [They] feature extensive presentations and discussions on important aviation-related historical events. Each [are] culminated with a flight over the museum [by] a featured aircraft as well as nostalgic films in our theater.”

Something to look forward to is their much-anticipated annual airshow, a two-day weekend event to be held on Oct. 30 to Oct. 31 at Chino Airport featuring up to 50 World War II era aircrafts as well as aircraft from both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

“There will be stunt flyers, military aircraft from today’s Air Force, Navy, and Marines, and an assortment of vendors, fun, games, and other activities for patrons,” Finnegan said. “We’re still in the early planning stages of this annual event that will attract close to 50,000 people to the Chino Airport.”

The museum also looks forward to their monthly “Flying Demonstrations,” which resumed as of April 3. “Flying Demo’s” showcase one aircraft both on the ground and in actual flight. A team of museum guides explains the history behind it, while costumed historical re-enactors share their insights. Each month will feature a different aircraft in the same format.

“It begins with a brief presentation about the featured aircraft (conducted outside with people socially distanced),” he explained. “Then [this] is followed by the pilot entering the aircraft, going through his pre-flight check, starting the engine, and then taxiing away. The pilot will then take-off and fly over the museum, making several passes from multiple angles for approximately 20 minutes.”

“Guests are invited to take photographs, ask questions, and learn more about the featured aircraft,” Finnegan said.

More events will be forthcoming in the months ahead and are more likely to be on the first Saturday of the month, with several on mid-month Saturday. These public events are allowed for the museum to safely conduct during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Finnegan.

With so much anticipated, Finnegan finds himself in a multi-faceted position responsible for all events, exhibits, displays, and guided tour experiences conducted by the museum. He is also responsible for the collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and other donated items that comprise the museum’s inventory. He also provides marketing with the goal of driving revenue to help the museum fulfill its mission and is responsible for the several hundred volunteers who support their efforts in a variety of roles.

“I started at Planes of Fame in 2014 as a volunteer,” he said. “I was originally a museum guide and later a tour guide, soon taking over the management of these duties as a volunteer.”

Though never directly involved with aviation, Finnegan brought with him an interest in history, particularly in military history, and was added to the museum’s staff in 2015. Likewise, the museum itself is steeped in both history and its history sheds light on how it acquired most of its collection of aircrafts.

“During World War II (1940 – 1944), the Chino Airport was known as the Cal-Aero Flight Academy,” explained Finnegan. “It was a privately-owned training school contracted by the U.S. Army Air Force to train Army cadets into becoming pilots. Over 10,000 pilots received their training here.”

“When the school was closed in 1944, the airfield was converted into a staging area for obsolete aircraft from the war,” he said. “When the war ended in 1945, the government began to systematically destroy these thousands of aircraft (and others stored elsewhere).”

Finnegan went on to tell the story of one young man, Edward Maloney of Pomona, who was an aviation and military aircraft fan. “When he saw these aircraft being destroyed, he felt he needed to do something,” he said. “That “something” became a lifelong passion of saving aircraft for future generations to appreciate and learn from.”

“Ed would seek out an aircraft, sometimes convincing the owner to donate it, other times purchasing it, but by 1957, he had ten aircraft in his possession,” Finnegan continued. “Thus, the Planes of Fame Air Museum was born when he opened the door with those first ten aircraft.”

Over the course of Ed’s life, he rescued more than 250 aircraft before passing away in 2016. Most are in the museum’s present-day collection, though some are in other museums throughout the world. Today, the Planes of Fame Air Museum still receives aircraft through private donations with this number steadily increasing.

The reasons for collecting the aircraft are primarily born out of the thought that it is best to experience them closeup, said Finnegan.

“We allow visitors extremely close contact with the aircraft in our collection – in many cases they can physically touch them and even enter a few,” he said. “We have found that not only seeing them is valuable, but also getting the sense of smell from their fuel and oil, adds to the experience.”

The Planes of Fame Air Museum offers educational field trips for elementary, intermediate, and high school students. Guided tours for the public are offered to both individuals and groups as well. Field trips are designed to incorporate and augment much of the curriculum taught under the National Science Standards and the Common Core Standards, according to Finnegan.

“Students learn about aviation, touch on the scientific principles of flight, understand the role of the pilot, technician, designer, and other related fields within aviation,” he said. “[They] learn the parts of an airplane and what they do, understand the importance of navigation, weather, and communication during flight and so on.”

“As for guided tours, they tend to focus on the history of aviation– from the earliest days including the Wright Brothers up to the jet and space ages of today,” Finnegan said. “The extensive collection of aircraft allows us to take [the] tours on a journey through time and helps them appreciate the achievements made in this important area as well as the sacrifices made by our veterans.”

“Among the oldest aircraft in the museum’s collection is a World War I fighter aircraft built in 1916,” he said. “It flew with the United States Navy out of Dunkirk during the Great War, providing coastal patrol and U-boat searches. It was brought back to the United States at war’s end (1918) and was rebuilt and assigned to the U.S. Navy Battleship ‘Mississippi’.”

“It later was damaged and scrapped and was purchased by a unique individual named Charles Nungesser,” Finnegan explained. “Nungesser had been an ace in the French Air Force during World War I. He used the aircraft as part of a traveling circus where he would put on mock aerial ‘dog-fights’ between planes for crowds across the country.”

“He also appeared in a silent movie in the aircraft,” he added. “This same aircraft later appeared in two World War I movie classics, “Wings” (1927) and “Hell’s Angels” (1929). The museum acquired it in 1952.”

Other popular aircraft the museum has in its possession includes the only remaining flying Boeing P-26 – a fighter from the 1930s, and the only remaining and flying Seversky P2A – another fighter from the 1930s, said Finnegan.

“Our Mitsubishi A6M5 ‘Zero’ is the only authentic flying Japanese Zero remaining in the world,” he added. “We have several other WWII veteran aircraft, a flying Soviet MiG-15, and several rare aircraft from other periods of aviation history.” All these aircraft are all based at the Chino museum location. The Grand Canyon location has several WWII combat aircraft and several one-of-a-kind aircraft built by private individuals.

The Planes of Fame Air Museum is a 501.c.3 non-profit organization focused on education as its primary role. Its mission is to preserve aviation history, inspire an interest in aviation, educate the public, and honor aviation pioneers and veterans. It is funded through their admissions, special events (Airshow, WWII Hangar Dances, annual Taste of Flight Gala), donations, grants, memberships, and other related activities.

“Our membership program provides numerous ways for people to support the museum, from individual to family to higher levels of giving,” Finnegan explained. “The best way to become involved is to visit us.”

People can choose from a wide variety of ways to get involved such as the museum’s outreach efforts including college level scholarships, annual student art contest or special programs for veterans. Volunteers are also welcomed to help maintain the museum, conduct tours, escort guests, work on restoration projects and more.   

“We have found that there is an ‘addictive’ quality to the museum – getting involved stimulates interest which leads to engagement which turns into lifetime support,” Finnegan said.

Seeing the old planes, touching their outer fuselage, and smelling their engine oil or fuel can be a powerful and memorable experience, one most are unlikely to ever forget.

“For many a visit to the museum is like a step back in time,” he added.

For more information about the Planes of Fame Museum and how you can support it, please visit online at www.planesoffame.org

 

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