During World War II, Southern California was a prime location for the production of military aircraft. Lockheed, Convair, North American, Douglas, Hughes, Northrop and Vultee all had factories there. Today one of the largest collections of airworthy specimens of aircraft produced during this era resides in Chino at the Planes of Fame Museum. The museum was founded in the 1950s by Ed Maloney, a pilot who didn’t like the idea of aviation history disappearing from the face of the Earth.
“I realized that there were no aviation museums on the West Coast and that airplanes that were produced during the so-called Golden Age of aviation were rapidly disappearing, as were the aircraft from World War II,” he said. “A lot of those airplanes, like the P-38s and B-17s, were being cut up for scrap and ending up as beer cans and grills for cars.”
At the time, Maloney was in the automobile business and aviation was primarily a hobby, but he still wanted to create an aviation museum. He found a location at an abandoned lumber mill in Claremont, Calif.
“We opened the museum in January of 1957. I was pretty selective about what aircraft I wanted in there,” he recalled. “We had an old Curtiss Jenny and a Piper Cub and a Travel Air.”
The first museum facility was near Cable Airport (CCB), a privately owned field that sits on the border of Claremont and Upland. Because the airport didn’t have a very large runway, the size of the aircraft that could be flown in for display at the museum was limited.
“From about 1957 to 1963 or 1964, nothing larger than a World War II fighter could get in there,” Maloney explained.
As the years passed the collection grew. In the 1970s the museum moved to its current facility at Chino Airport (CMO) which, during World War II, was a training facility for the Army Air Corps. After the war it became a disposal yard for surplus military aircraft.
Planes of Fame is one of two aviation museums at the airport. The other is Yanks Air Museum, which has static displays.
Planes of Fame, which occupies about 10 acres at the airport, is home to some 150 aircraft, including at least 35 that are kept in airworthy condition. When they are not on display, they are flown around the world to take part in air shows, such as EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh and the Duxford Air Show in England.
“It is quite an effort to make them fly,” noted Maloney. “We have our own machine shop to make parts as replacement parts are getting very dear and harder to come by.”
This year, the museum celebrates 50 years in operation.
“We started celebrating early because we know that it is a big, big deal,” noted Mark Foster, vice president and general manager of Planes of Fame. “On Jan. 6 we dedicated the new main entrance at the museum in the name of Edward T. Maloney, our founder. We flew 11 airplanes that day.”
The museum is known for its rare aircraft, according to Foster.
“One of the more unusual ones is our Japanese Zero,” he said. “It has its original radial engine. Most others that you see have American engines in them now. We also have a Navy aircraft, an SBD Dauntless dive-bomber, and we think that we have the oldest flying F4U1A Corsair out there. We also have a Northrop Flying Wing. There were only four of them built and this is the only one that flies.”
But the museum isn’t only about World War II, according to Foster. “We have a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer that was lovingly restored by Chapter 93 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, as well as some World War I designs, such as a replica of a Fokker Triplane, a Bristol Fighter, a Sopwith Pup replica and Nieuports in various stages of restoration.”
The museum also has exhibits from the space race and the Cold War but, like so many other aviation museums, it has to keep many of its aircraft in storage because it doesn’t have the physical space to display it.
“We span the history of manned flight,” Foster noted proudly.
Planes of Fame also has a satellite facility in Arizona at Grand Canyon-Valle Airport. Occasionally aircraft are shuttled between the two facilities.
The Chino location is a popular destination for school tours, noted Maloney, so much so that “we are building an education center for children. It is a great legacy to have. Our youth will carry forward long after we are gone.”
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