The Tillamook Air Museum begins 2015 with new management.
Last month the Port of Tillamook announced plans to assume operations of the museum, which is located in a wooden hangar at Tillamook Airport (KTMK) on the coast of Oregon.
During World War II Tillamook was a Naval Air Station housing Squadron ZP-33, consisting of eight K-class blimps. The blimps patrolled the Pacific Coast looking for enemy submarines and providing cover for merchant convoys.
The past two years have been marked by transition at the museum, noted Michele Bradley, general manager of the Port of Tillamook Bay.
Since 1994 about half of the aircraft on display were on loan from a private owner, Jack Erickson, the founder of Erickson Air Crane. In April 2013 Erickson announced plans to relocate his collection, which consists of about 15 airworthy warbirds including a B-17, from Tillamook to a new facility in Madras, Oregon, in the central part of the state.
“The Port and the Erickson Group have signed a transition agreement,” said Bradley. “The Erickson Group lease expires in January 2016. Erickson’s private collection was moved earlier this year. The Port wanted to make sure that the museum would continue to operate through the time of the lease expiration. The Erickson Group has been very helpful during this transition time, and we look forward to continue to work with them.”
According to Mike Oliver, general manager of the Erickson Aircraft Collection, the relocation was driven in part because the 60-year-old Tillamook hangar was deteriorating, the salt air of the coast is bad for airworthy airplanes, and the blimp hangar is not a climate-controlled facility.
“Madras is Oregon’s high desert terrain. The air is much dryer,“ said Oliver.
In addition, in 2013 Erickson acquired a firefighting air-tanker operation with the fleet based in Madras. The Erickson vintage warbird fleet is now located in a building adjacent to the air-tanker operations.
“We now have a 6,500-foot hangar that acts as a museum for our airplanes, all of which fly,” he said, noting it is open Thursday through Monday. “We also participate in the Airshow of the Cascades, which is the second largest air show in Oregon, and in August we have the Madras Air to Air experience. That is sort of a clinic where we invite people out to learn how to photograph airplanes air to air. They come out and meet with professional photographers who teach them how to shoot. They get two or three flights in a Bonanza and go home at the end of the day with air to air photographs of warbirds.”
Although the Erickson Aircraft Collection has relocated, the Tillamook Air Museum is still in business, according to Christian Gurling, the museum’s curator.
The museum is filled with artifacts and dioramas depicting daily life at the Navy base during the 1940s. In addition there are still several aircraft on display.
“We still have about 15 aircraft on display,” he said. “Most of them are on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, or from private individuals. We also have several hundred artifacts that have been donated to the museum.”
Among the aircraft that remain are a Chance Vought A-7 Corsair that flew 39 missions in the Gulf War, a Douglas A-4B Skyhawk, and the perennial favorite of many visitors, an Aero Spacelines Mini Guppy, which is often described by younger visitors as an “airplane with the mumps” because of its bulbous fuselage.
According to Gurling, the museum attracts about 70,000 visitors annually.
“It’s not just the aircraft and artifacts that draw the visitors,” he said. “The building itself is an attraction. In 1989 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places.”
The building, known as Hangar B, was built in the 1940s. Hangar B and its companion Hangar A, were part of a series of airship facilities built up and down the West Coast. Because metal was a strategic material needed for the war effort to make tanks, airplanes and battleships, the hangar were built from wood.
In 1992 Hangar A, which at the time was being used to store hay, burned. The fire was so fierce that it melted the paint on firetrucks that were called in to fight the blaze. The cement support beams from Hangar A still stand next to Hangar B.
“That fire really kind of woke people up and made them realize that we have this wonderful piece of history in our own backyard,” said Gurling.
In its heyday the museum hosted several fly-ins and aviation open houses. The museum cafe, which resembled a 1940s diner right down to patriotic propaganda posters in the restrooms, was also very popular. But, like so many facilities built during the war years, the hangar is in need of maintenance and repair, which means money has to be coming in.
According to Bradley, the Port has hired a new manager for the museum, Elizabeth Marcum, who has the task of “developing a strategy and mounting a fundraising campaign to help with structure repairs.
“Currently we are looking into kitchen renovations, overall sprucing up in the lobby and gift area, and seeking new exhibits,” said Bradley, adding that Gurling, who has been with the museum since 2007, remains in his role as curator. “Larger infrastructure issues have already been identified and a strategy to fund will start shortly. The new manager will be identifying other upgrades to the exhibit areas, the gift shop and the general area once she comes on board. We are looking forward to her fresh ideas.”