The Planes of Fame Air Museum lives up to its name. Out front is one of the most famous planes of the 20th century: a Boeing B-17. This example was actually the last B-17 on active duty, and was used in the filming of the ’60s TV show Twelve O’Clock High.
If you watchedof Catch-22 then you saw another of the museum’s planes, their flyable B-25. Several other aircraft here were featured in movies and TV shows, and others are the sole survivors of their type. The rarest aircraft here is the only remaining original and still flying Mitsubishi Zero in the world, with the original Nakajima Sakae radial engine. It also appeared in Tora, Tora, Tora and much, much later, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.
Many of the rare aircraft at the museum are actually airworthy, often thanks to the on-site restoration shop and its dedicated team. All of this makes for a rather fascinating museum. Let’s take a look around.
One of the rarest, and certainly one of the weirdest, planes in the collection is the Ryan FR Fireball. In the front is a radial engine, quite typical for a WWII aircraft. Behind the cockpit, however, is an early jet engine, the General Electric J31. The plane was able to fly on either, or both, engines. The museum’s example is the only one left and was restored on site.
There’s also an example of the single-engined Heinkel He 162, one of the earliest jet interceptors. It’s one of two on display in the US.
The collection of Japanese WWII aircraft is one of the most impressive in the world, headlined by the aforementioned Zero. It was captured in Saipan, then brought to the US for testing. It was flown by numerous pilots to get a sense of its characteristics, including none other than Charles Lindbergh.
In the same hangar there’s one of only two surviving Yokosuka D4Y Suisei dive bombers, one of only two German-designed rocket-powered Mitsubishi J8M interceptors and the only surviving Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden. The museum is also restoring an Aichi D3A2 Val to flying condition.
There are even parts and fuselage of the first airplane to fly around the world nonstop, the B-50 Lucky Lady II, but it’s awaiting restoration.
My visit was to the Chino, California, location, but the museum also has an Arizona annex near the Grand Canyon.
About once a month the museum flies select aircraft. It’s worth checking out when and what. I spent about half my day at Planes of Fame, and the other half atand its , which is conveniently located on the other side of the same airport as this museum.
Combining both makes for an excellent day of some amazing historical aircraft. In the meantime, check out the gallery above.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram, Twitter, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.