David Tallichet, who founded the 94th Aero Squadron and seven other themed restaurant chains, died Oct. 29 at the age of 84.
Tallichet’s 94th Aero Squadron restaurants were built to look like French farmhouses barricaded with sandbags against World War I German bombardment. Outside were mock-up World War I aircraft. Inside were fascinating photographs and memorabilia, collected by the owner. Most were alongside airport runways, offering diners a good view of today’s airplanes landing and taking off. Other Tallichet restaurants featured World War II, South Seas, nautical and other themes.
Tallichet’s voracious collecting earned him a reputation as the Indiana Jones of aviation history. He journeyed to remote deserts, swamps, jungles and mountainsides in pursuit of warplanes, eventually building a collection of 120, many dating from World War II and the Cold War. One of his earliest purchases was a P-51 declared surplus by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Starting around 1970 he began mounting expeditions to salvage wrecked or abandoned airplanes, ranging from a rare P-40 and a Hawker Hurricane to ex-Soviet MiGs. At one point he bought a fleet of Hawker Sea Furies forgotten in Iraq and shipped them home, where collectors snapped up those he didn’t want for himself.
He found another fleet of Martin B-26s in western Canada, where the whole lot had crashed on the way to Alaska. From them he built an airworthy Marauder at a time when no flyable B-26 existed. He recovered other warbirds from the New Guinea jungles, haggled with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza for several A-26s, and bought a gaggle of PBY-5As from Brazil, flying one of them home himself. At the time of his death, dozens of his planes were in hangars at Chino, Calif., other airports around the country, and on loan to museums. His is said to be the world’s largest collection of privately owned, flyable World War II aircraft.
During World War II, Tallichet was an 8th Air Force B-17 pilot who flew 23 combat missions before V-E Day and transport missions to Germany for a year afterward. He flew his own B-17 for the 1990 “Memphis Belle” movie.
According to FAA records, Tallichet was the last World War II pilot still qualified to fly B-17s.