The Flying Heritage Collection

By Jim Schubert

Saturday December 18, Paul Ludwig and I took the public tour of billionaire Paul Allen's Flying Heritage Collection of warbirds at Arlington Airport about 40 miles north of Seattle. Our interest in this tour was initially whetted by a front page article in the Seattle Times of Wednesday April 21, 2004. That article, written by Peyton Whitely, devoted 142 column inches to the opening of the collection to public view and included five color photos.

After finding the unmarked hangars on the west side of the field and then finding the correct unmarked door, we were greeted by Barb the scheduler/receptionist who ushered us into a small waiting room where we were shown a short movie made last Spring about the collection and the reuniting of Harrison "Bud" Tordoff with his P-51D Mustang, UPUPA EPOPS, which was used for the film by Steve Hinton to beat-up Arlington Airport.

Bud was an amateur ornithologist when he enlisted in the Air Force. He got to Europe late in the war after the German press had used photos of some of the more salacious nose art and plane names to show what depraved people the Americans were. So, naturally, the word came down the chain of command that all future nose art and plane names had to be approved through channels. Being a cautious wise guy, Bud Tordoff submitted the name UPUPA EPOPS. No one had a clue what it meant and didn't dare admit their ignorance so it was approved. It is the name of a rare bird. Bud pronounces it Oop Oopa Ee-pops.

All of the planes in the collection - with a very few exceptions - are, or will be, airworthy and it is the intent of the collection's managers to fly each plane about four times a year to keep them active and in the public's eye. We were told the FHC web-site will announce flying dates. It was suggested the best place to watch the flying was from the restaurant apron on the east side of the field.

After this brief film we were introduced to our tour guide, Art Unruh, a veteran of the USAAF at the waist gun of a B-17G. His book of wartime memoirs is available for purchase on-site. The first warbird Art showed us was the Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" in Love Field markings of 1918.

There is nothing but a mild request to not touch the artifacts between the visitors and the planes - no ropes, no toe curbs, just good sense, respect and courtesy. There is also no contemporary museology, interactivity or atmosphere of time and place evident in the presentation of the planes. They are parked, well spaced, in rows on white epoxy concrete floors in VERY well lighted hangars. There's no mood lighting or sound effects and there are no interpretive signs blocking the view of the planes. AND - there are no airplanes hanging, out of reach for detailed study, from the ceiling. This is an enthusiast's delight.

It all looks rather like the way Doug Champlin displayed his fighter collection at Falcon Field in Mesa before he sold it to the Museum of Flight and they hid the airplanes from view amongst the distractive clutter of current museology. The FHC display lets the artifacts speak loudly and clearly for themselves. Each plane has one very well executed sign that tells about the type and about the particular specimen, where it came from and, typically, "before" and "after" restoration photos of the plane. As an example of how free visitors are, whilst Art was giving his presentation on each airplane I walked around and peered into, under and around them to see details in which I was interested; on a couple of occasions actually getting down on my knees under the plane to look up into wheel wells, etc.

The artifacts currently on display, in the order they were shown to us, were:

Curtiss JN-4D Jenny,
Fielser Fi.156-C2 Storch,
Kettenkraftkrad and trailer,
Fiesler Fi.103/V-1 Buzz Bomb (not airworthy),
Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk,
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc,
North American P-51D Mustang,
Fiesler Fi.103R (piloted Buzz Bomb - not airworthy),
B-17E fin, outer right wing and ball turret only,
Nakajima Ki-43-1b Hayabusa (not presently airworthy),
Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat (not presently airworthy),
Mitsubishi A6M5-52 Reisen (as recovered - will not be restored) and
Polikarpov Po.2 (This plane was in another hangar undergoing maintenance).

Before Art walked us over to the other hangar to see the Po.2, we were shown a film about women pilots in the Soviet Air Force in WWII. This film was also made by the FHC and features their Po.2. We were also served very good chocolate chip cookies to go with the movie. Also in the maintenance hangar, but off-limits, were two Vought F8U Crusaders, a Republic F-105 Thunderchief and two late mark MiG-21s. Art told us the collection has three each of the Crusaders and MiGs, from which they are building one each airworthy machines.

At this point we had been on site about two hours and were invited to stay as long as we wanted to examine the planes on our own or take pictures. One quirk here is that visitors are asked to include a person in every picture. The explanation of why had something to do with copyright. I didn't and don't understand that. The explanation on the FHC web site didn't help either. Perhaps one of our lawyer friends can explain this. I suppose if I'd wanted to take a picture of the inside of the I-16s wheel well, I would have had to get Paul to bend over and get his head in the frame. Small price to pay for being able to get that close with that much freedom. To make it easier for visitors, some of the airplanes had small platforms on one side next to the cockpits so that you could get a good view.

We were told that the collection wants its airplanes to be as accurate as current airworthiness regulations and common sense permit. The Mustang for example is not polished; it is clean, fresh looking, bare aluminum where that is what North American delivered in 1944. The wing is also the way North American delivered it; all the seams and rivet dimples have been filled, and the whole wing then sanded and painted with aluminum varnish except for the flaps and ailerons. It also has a vacuum tube radio. That is by way of saying the airplanes are restored to like new condition but not over-restored to better than new condition.

I asked specifically about the Me.262 Schwalbe that the collection bought from Ed Maloney's Planes of Fame Museum and was told that it was in process of restoration to airworthiness. I then asked what engines they would use and Art told me they were rebuilding the Jumo 004s with custom made turbine and compressor disks, blades, stators and with new hot-section parts made of current alloys and were expecting a minimum service life on the rebuilt engines in excess of 200 hours instead of the less than 10 hours maximum service life of the original Jumos.

Tours are given only on Fridays and Saturdays between the hours of 10:00 -12:00 and 2:00 - 4:00. They must be booked by phone at 360-435-2172 on Thursdays between 9:00 - 4:00, or via the FHC web site at www.flyingheritage.com and paid for by credit or debit card in advance. The cost is $20 per adult; $16 for veterans and seniors. The FHC web site is very good and has several videos on it. To view the videos you must have Microsoft Windows Media Player installed on your computer. I don't so all I could see was the very short intro video which opens with Steve Hinton buzzing the photographer with the Mustang.

Information available at the collection and on the web site lists, in addition to those noted above, the following airplanes in the collection:

Currently being restored:

Messerschmitt Bf.109E-3 Emil,
Hawker Mk.XIIb Hurricane,
Mitsubishi A6M3-22 Reisen (two-seater field modification),
Focke-Wulf Fw. 190-A5 Wurger,
Republic P-47D Thunderbolt ( I don't know if this is a razorback or a bubble),
Goodyear FG-1D Corsair,
North American B-25J Mitchell,
Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress,
Messerschmitt Me.262 Schwalbe,
V-2 Vengeance Weapon,
Douglas AD-4N Skyraider,
Ilyushin Il-2M-3 Shturmovik and
Lockheed P-38J Lightning.

Future restorations :

CASA 2.111D (Spanish license built He. 111 with Merlin engines),
Nakajima Ki.43-1b Hayabusa (currently on display),
Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat (currently on display),
North American F-86A Sabre,
Mitsubishi A6M5-52 Reisen
Yakovlev Yk-3U,
Republic F-105G Thunderchief,
Vought F-8 Crusader,
Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-21 Mongol (I couldn't tell what mark),
BAE/Hawker GR-3 Harrier,
DeHavilland DH-98 Mosquito and
Messerschmitt Me. 163B Komet.

In addition to these, for what it's worth, Chris Banyai-Riepl did a search of the FAA registry in February 2003 and found a Norduyn Norseman Mk.5 and a Republic F-84G Thunderjet also listed as belonging to Paul Allen's Vulcan Corporation. Chris is going to do another search. It should also be noted that the Flying Heritage collection is continuing to acquire warbirds.

Arlington is a fairly inconvenient location but it is rumored that Vulcan plans to build a facility on Boeing Field in Seattle and to operate on more of a public museum basis in the distant future.

A big "thank you" to Paul Ludwig and Chris Banyai-Riepl for their help with this report.

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