History in Flight

Rare warbirds star in a California airshow

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Tony Reichhardt

With more than 100 historic aircraft, the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, exhibits one of the most significant collections of airplanes in the country. This weekend the exhibits will come to life as the museum stages its annual airshow. Nearly 30 “planes of fame,” as well as aircraft from neighbors and nearby museums, will fly on May 15 and 16 in what one Air & Spacewriter once called “the world’s most spectacular aerial display of rare warbirds from all generations.” How rare? The museum owns the only original, airworthy Japanese Zero fighter and one of the few Russian-built MiG-15s flying anywhere. The MiG (above right) will perform with the museum’s North American F-86 Sabre in a tribute to the veterans of the Korean War, the conflict that pitted the two aircraft against each other.

The museum owns a second MiG-15 and two MiG-17s, so that, according to founder Ed Maloney, if another museum needs a pair of MiGs and has aircraft to trade, the Planes of Fame Museum may be interested. “We also have a MiG-21F, but it won’t fly this weekend,” says Maloney. “It’s too fast for our airport.”

Click through the gallery below to see more aircraft that will be flying this weekend.

A6M5

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(Frank Mormillo/ Planes of Fame Museum)

Ed Maloney bought the Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero fighter, the only flying A6M5 with the original Nakajima Sakae 31 engine, from a scrap dealer in the 1950s. It was one of a group of aircraft captured by U.S. forces in the Pacific in June 1944. Maloney also acquired an aircraft logbook from the Navy, which brought the Zero back to the States and flew it in a series of tests at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. One of the logbook entries, dated October 1944, was made by Charles Lindbergh.

P-38J

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(Frank Mormillo/ Planes of Fame Museum)

The Museum’s P-38J Lightning is one of the later models built for World War II and was used Stateside to train fighter pilots. “We don’t think they brought any P-38s back,” says Maloney. “They were all cut up for scrap.” Although the aircraft didn’t see action in the war, it is painted in the markings of a pilot who did and earned a silver star for it: fighter ace P.J. Dahl. Dahl named his airplane “23 Skidoo,” after an expression his father often used for getting out of a spot quick.

475th Fighters

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(Frank Mormillo/ Planes of Fame Museum)

P.J. Dahl and his P-38 were part of the 475th Fighter Group, sometimes called a “supergroup” because of the number of Japanese aircraft the group is credited with shooting down. The highest scoring U.S. ace in World War II, Richard Bong, flew with the 475th. In 2005, the 475th Fighter Group Association donated its memorabilia to the Planes of Fame Air Museum, which acquired a hangar for the collection, highlighted by the museum’s Lockheed P-38J.

B-25

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(Frank Mormillo/ Planes of Fame Museum)

Almost 10,000 B-25 medium bombers were built in World War II, and there are probably more B-25s still flying today than any other type of bomber from the war. The Planes of Fame Museum’s B-25J was built in Kansas City, Kansas, a plant that opened when the North American plant in Inglewood, California, building the bombers and P-51 Mustang fighters, had reached its capacity.

P-51 Mustang

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(Frank Mormillo/ Planes of Fame Museum)

The museum expects 16 P-51 Mustangs at the May event. Mustang number Ed Maloney purchased tail number 45-11582 (foreground) in November 1957, and the museum has maintained it in flying condition ever since.

P-40

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(Frank Mormillo/ Planes of Fame Museum)

Among the most distinctive Curtiss P-40 Warhawks that flew in World War II were those of the 325th Fighter Group, based originally in North Africa and later in Italy. From their airplane’s paint scheme, the group’s squadrons became known as the “Checkertail Clan.” The museum’s P-40, painted in the checkertail markings, is actually a P-40N that served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war. The museum acquired it from a company that fitted the aircraft with an apparatus to sprinkle chemicals into clouds on weather-modification flights.