Aviation History & Restoration Museums • Paine Field, Everett, WA
For WWII aviation enthusiasts, three restoration centers clustered around Paine Field in Washington State’s Puget Sound area offer a marvelous variety of superbly restored warbirds — enough to keep visitors entertained for a full day.
Located in the bustling city of Everett, 25 minutes north of downtown Seattle, the FLYING HERITAGE COLLECTION, the MUSEUM OF FLIGHT RESTORATION CENTER and the HISTORIC FLIGHT FOUNDATION’S RESTORATION CENTER collectively attract warbird aficionados from all over the U.S. and the world.
Flying Heritage Collection
My tour started at the FLYING HERITAGE COLLECTION (FHC), located at the southeast corner of Paine Field. Founded in 1986, this massive 51,000-square-foot, refurbished hangar is spick-and-span, inside and out; an indicator of its benefactor’s deep pockets, Microsoft billionaire Paul G. Allen.
The FHC is bursting with classic WWII planes, including some very rare birds. From Germany, a rocket-propelled Messer-schmitt 163B Komet, a rare Focke-Wulf Fw D-13 (Dora) and a German Messerschmitt Bf109 E-3; from Japan, the last known Nakajima KI-43 Hayabusa (Oscar) and a Mitsubishi A6M3-22 Reisen (Zero); from the former Soviet Union, one of a handful of remaining Polikarpov I-16 Type 24 (Rata); from Britain, a Hawker Hurricane Mk.XIIA, and, from the U.S., a Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, a North American P-51D Mustang, a Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk, and many other rare aircraft.
Cory Graff, Military Aviation Curator of the collection, walked me around the gleaming, multi-colored birds of prey, telling me their fascinating and poignant stories. These aircraft were researched, tracked down and sometimes recovered from former battlegrounds and airfields; their biographies have been meticulously put together and their histories are presented on reader boards in front of each aircraft. If these planes could talk they’d fill whole books.
The North American Mustang has an interesting story; it’s a combat veteran. Delivered to the USAAF on 26 Jan 45, this Mustang was based in Raydon with the 8th Army Air Force (352nd Squadron, 353rd Fighter group). Captain Harrison B. “Bud” Tordoff flew this silver brute in support of daylight bombing raids over Europe and Germany, and later in attack and support missions for the Allied ground forces during the liberation of Europe.
Captain Tordoff shot down nine aircraft in all, two of them in this Mustang. One of his victories was over a German Me 262 jet fighter — no mean feat when one considers the speed discrepancy between the two aircraft. Captain Tordoff was reunited with his plane in the summer of 2003 in a moving ceremony that can be seen on the museum’s website.
The FHC’s Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk also has a strange history. Purchased by the British, it was immediately given to the So-viet Union in 1941 under the Lend-Lease program. This Tomahawk flew in combat against the Germans over the Karelian Front, defending Murmansk. Soviet Major Ermakov was flying it on 27 Sep 42, when the oil tank was punctured by enemy fire and the engine seized up. Ermakov managed to glide the aircraft to a belly landing on snowy ground, where it was abandoned. It was rediscovered in 1999 from satellite images, and then restored. The FHC acquired it in 1999.
FLYING HERITAGE COLLECTION (Paine Field, 3407 109th Street SW, Everett, WA 98204; 206/342-4242, for tickets, call 877/342-3404, www.flyingheritage.com) is open 10-5 daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Tuesday through Sunday the rest of the year (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). Adult admission is $12, seniors/military, $10, youths (age 6-15), $8, and children under age 5, free.
Flight Restoration Center
My next stop was Seattle’s MUSEUM OF FLIGHT RESTORATION CENTER (MFRC), a 5-minute drive from the FHC where I met Dan Hagedorn, senior curator, and Tom Cathcart, the man who makes the restorations happen.
Opened in 1988, the MFRC is essentially a large entry room, with two hangars out the back, totaling 23,000 square feet. Al-though the restoration museum does not only bring WWII warbirds back to life, they’ve certainly restored their fair share, including many of the pristinely reconstructed aircraft at the Museum of Flight located at Boeing Field (9404 East Marginal Way S,
Seattle, WA 98108-4097;
A notable warbird that was undergoing restoration is the General Motors FM-2 Wildcat. Eastern Aircraft, a division of General Motors, built over 4,000 Grumman Wildcats under license during WWII, serving primarily on aircraft carriers. The restoration center’s Wildcat served in combat aboard the escort carrier USS Petrof Bay during the last months of WWII, including supporting the invasion of Okinawa. After the war became surplus and spent two decades in an outdoor park in south Seattle with kids ripping out its instruments. Needless to say it was very much the worse for wear when the Museum of Flight acquired it in 1969.
MUSEUM OF FLIGHT RESTORATION CENTER (2909 100th St. SW, Everett, WA 98204; www.museumofflight.org/restoration-center) is open June-August, Tuesday-Saturday, 9-5; September-May, Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday, 9-4. Adult admission is $5, youths aged 5-17, $3, and children under 4, free.
Historic Flight Foundation
The HISTORIC FLIGHT FOUNDATION’S (HFF) sparkling RESTORATION CENTER (HFRC), a half-mile across Paine Field from the FHC, was my last stop.
John Sessions, who established the foundation in 2003, opened the restoration center to the public on 5 Mar 10. They also travel to dozens of air shows, performing for over a million fans.
Their acquisition of an unrestored, flying Spitfire in 2006 cost just shy £2 million. HFRC purchased and financed its restoration by Historic Flying Ltd. of Duxford, England. An English aviation magazine devoted almost 20 pages to this story, so my comments will not do justice. It was flown by the 312th (Czech) Squadron from RAF Manston in Kent during WWII, then conveyed to the reformed Czech Air Force after the war. Its WWII history with the Czech 312 squadron would make it a sister Spitfire to the one in the Flying Heritage Collection — they may well have flown into combat together.
Other WWII aircraft in the collection include a North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, a Grumman F8F-2A Bearcat, a North American Aviation T-6A, a North American Aviation B-25D Mitchell Bomber, a Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat, and a Waco UPF-7.
The Mustang, named Impatient Virgin was delivered in early 1944 to the 376th Fighter Squadron based in Bottisham, England. It had 700 hours of combat flying, including four sorties over the D-Day beaches. Its greatest moment of glory came on 27 Sep 44, when it was flying fighter cover for the 445th BG in a mission to Kassel, Germany. While engaged in several furious dogfights, this aircraft downed three 18 Fw-190 fighters, while the rest of the squadron destroyed another 15.
Impatient Virgin’s demise came on 22 Jun 45, when Flying Officer Wade Ross took her on a very low and fast training flight. Ross got into trouble, bailed out and the plane crashed into a field at Little Walden. In 2002, while some aviation archeologists were excavating a crash site, a man pointed to a nearby field and said, “That’s the one you should be digging up,” having actually seen the Mustang crash. The archeologists finally found the crash point and, over three years, recovered the Mustang; the restoration took 33 months.
HISTORIC FLIGHT FOUNDATION (10719 Bernie Webber Dr., Mukilteo, WA 98275; 425/348-3200, email firstname.lastname@example.org, http://historicflight.org) is open 10-5, Thursday-Sunday. Adult admission is $12, senior (65+)/military, $10, youth (aged 6-15), $8, children under age 5, free.
Sadly, space does not permit me to describe the rest of the aircraft at these three restoration centers and museums. Needless to say, these descriptions have just scratched the surface, and spending a day or two touring these centers will be time well spent for the warbird aviation and restoration enthusiast.