CONCRETE, Washington — Some of America’s rarest vintage aircraft from the 1920s to the 1950s are still flying around this small town in the North Cascade Mountains, sharing airspace with resident eagles.
Honoring those decades of America’s “Golden Age of Aviation,” the North Cascades Vintage Aviation Museum showcases dozens of relics restored to their original flying freshness, giving them another chance to stretch their wings.
The museum’s rare birds are nesting north of Seattle at Concrete’s Mears Field (3W5) where they fly from a 2,600-foot paved runway to soar over spectacular mountain vistas and forests.
“Among our planes are all five beautifully restored models of the Shortwing Piper line that were so popular that they saved the company from bankruptcy in 1947,” said Jim Jenkins, the museum’s manager, a 40-year veteran of restoring rare aircraft. “We feel we have an important role in preserving our country’s early civil aviation history.”
The museum’s historic planes are varied and famous, including a 1929 Boeing P-12C; a 1934 GeeBee Sportster; a 1937 Ryan Special; a 1946 Luscomb 8A; a 1946 Aeronca 7 Champ; a 1937 Monocoup 110; and a 1944 Beech Staggerwing.
Dozens more planes are scattered among the museum’s six display hangars, each aircraft representing an important development in America’s civilian history of flight.
“It takes a lot of patience and hard work,” said Jenkins, who is also the museum’s director of restoration. “But getting to fly these marvelous historic planes afterward, that’s where it’s really fun for us.”
His restoration crew and flying team includes his son, Drew, and Brian White. Sean Phillips is the museum’s newest intern.
There’s room for volunteers, too. Julie Hubner of Bellingham has worked at the museum for more than two years.
“I enjoy spending time around those beautifully restored vintage aircraft and people with such passion and skills to restore and maintain these antique flying machines,” Hubner said.
She encourages others to volunteer and is developing high school outreach programs for the museum.
Little publicized for years, the museum is preparing for a new era of growth, inspired by its new president, retired investment banker Barry Smith of nearby Everett, Washington.
Smith has consulted for Britain’s Royal Air Force Museum, Germany’s Duetsches Museum and The Pacific Aviation Museum of Pearl Harbor on Honolulu’s Ford Island.
In his banking role, Smith met the museum’s founder, Harold Hanson of Monroe, Wash., in the 1970s. That’s when Hanson was financing his passion for collecting and flying old aircraft with profits from his business and real estate successes. Hanson’s collection of rare vintage planes grew quickly.
“Harold never met an old airplane he didn’t like,” Smith said, grinning.
Hanson once wrote that “falling in love with airplanes can be a dangerous thing…you read about them, talk about them and beg, borrow and steal from the cookie jar to fly them. These are the airplanes our grandfathers, fathers and even some of us flew. You seek them out, restore them and fly them to make sure they are not forgotten, and you put a ‘welcome’ sign on the hangar door.”
Hanson’s antique air museum and restoration center at Concrete is doing exactly that, meticulously breathing life back into each rare plane and inviting fans to see, touch and admire these relics of the historic early days of American civil aviation, Smith said.
When Hanson began running out of storage space at the small Monroe airfield in 2008, he transformed Mears Field into a new home for his rare planes. Since his death in 2010, the museum staff has continued Hanson’s passion for acquiring, restoring and displaying his extensive vintage aircraft collection.
“We wanted to continue providing opportunities for pilots and aviation fans to see, touch and admire Harold’s historic flying relics,” Jenkins said.
He’s particularly proud of the expert aviation restoration skills his team has brought to the museum. He also treasures each person’s appreciation of the rare opportunity to preserve and fly famous planes that make up America’s early civil aviation history.
“We have a rare and fascinating museum. It’s a national treasure, but we only get about a thousand visitors a year, including tourists, traveling motorcycle clubs and visiting pilots. Our biggest event is our annual fly-in on the last weekend in July,” Jenkins said. “Now, that’s changing. Working with Barry we’re launching a new awareness campaign for the museum in 2017.”
Smith expects more publicity will increase attendance, as well as attracting more donations, plus donations of antique aircraft and early aviation era memorabilia.
“We need to find innovative ways to manage the expense of operating a museum and restoration center of this size,” Smith said. “We’ll continue to slowly add more vintage planes but we’ll be very selective. We have to finance this whole thing properly for the growth we see coming.”
Smith’s priorities include spreading awareness of the museum and strengthening its financial position. As an established 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, the museum is seeking donations of cash, financial grants, selected vintage aircraft and a variety of aviation memorabilia from the decades of the Golden Age of Civil Aviation.
More information and photos are available on the museum’s Facebook page.