You may never have been to the Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham, Wash., but you have probably seen some of its aircraft.
The mission of the museum, located at Bellingham International Airport (BLI) in Bellingham, Wash., north of Seattle, is the preservation of flying military aircraft, so during the spring and summer months the machines and their pilots travel around the country doing heritage flights. A heritage flight is a formation of aircraft from different eras, such as a P-51 Mustang with an F-15.
The museum was founded in 1996 by Maj. General William Anders (Ret.), an Apollo 8 astronaut. The non-profit museum is very much a family affair, notes Greg Anders, the son of the founder and the museum’s vice president, executive director and webmaster. His brother, Alan, is in charge of aircraft maintenance.
“For many years Dad was the one who ran the museum and, as the organization got bigger, my brother Alan and I joined him,” Greg Anders explains. “About four years ago we realized that this thing was really growing, and that we had to either get serious about it or get serious about trimming it.”
They decided to continue to nurture it. That included getting the word out to various organizations, such as local veterans groups and schools, about the museum. They also are in contact with air show sponsors around the country who request that a particular airplane be part of their events.
“Because of liability issues, I do most of the flying,” says Greg Anders, a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy who flew A-10s for the 190th Fighter Squadron in Boise, Idaho. Currently serving as an Air Force Reservist in the Civil Air Patrol Reserve Aircrew Program, in 2003 he was activated for a four-month deployment to Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he flew 27 sorties in the A-10. His military flying experience also includes flying F-16s, F-15s, the F-18, T-38, AT-38 and T-37. At the museum, he flies the P-51 and most of the other aircraft, as well as his AT-6D “Hog Wild Gunner” and his MH-1521 Broussard.
Museum founder William Anders, who has more than 8,000 hours, also does a lot of the flying. He often flies the museum’s P-51D Mustang with F-16, F-15, and A-10 fighter aircraft in the Heritage Flights.
The current home of the museum is a nondescript 60 x 60 hangar. The museum has 15 aircraft ranging from World War II to the Vietnam era. Because of space limitations, some are kept in other hangars. Finding space to house the aircraft collection is a challenge, according to Anders.
“We’re now in the midst of a capital campaign to raise money to build a facility to hold us,” he says. “In the transition we are leasing space. We want to stay in the community, but we need a local nest to put all the birds in.”
On the third Saturday of each month — weather permitting, of course — the door on the hangar is thrown open and the warbirds rolled onto the ramp for all to see.
“If the weather is good enough for an open house that means some of the collection will fly,” says Anders, “because if we are having an open house I want there to be flying airplanes.”
In addition to aircraft, the museum has other artifacts on display, such as uniforms and the like, but since the aircraft take up most of the space in the hangar there isn’t a lot left over for static displays.
“But we’re not complaining,” says Kate Granat, executive assistant at the museum. “As more people learn about us they are bringing us incredible things. We are getting things that have come out of people’s attics and basements, such as uniforms and never-before-seen combat maps from Vietnam with grease pencil markings on them, letter writing cases, medals and badges spanning from World War II to things Greg brought back from Iraq.”
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