Vintage airplanes took to the skies, history filled the hangar and burgers sizzled on the grill Saturday afternoon as the Historic Flight Foundation (HFF) kicked off Paine Field’s flying season. Airplane lovers who missed the event will have plenty of other chances to see HFF’s historic airplanes this summer.
Saturday was just the first of five monthly Member Fly Days, and HFF’s airplanes will fly again in two weeks at Paine Field Aviation Day—the field’s annual airshow—on Saturday, May 20.
Aviation has been a huge part of the Seattle landscape—and skyscape—for over 100 years. Residents of Edmonds, Lynwood and other nearby locations are fortunate to have Historic Flight and several other world-class flight museums and aviation attractions at nearby Paine Field to celebrate that rich aviation history and tradition.
Historic Flight, located on the west side of Paine Field in Mukilteo, has a top-flight collection of some of the most important aircraft produced between 1927 and 1957, a period of rapid aircraft innovation. During that thirty-year period, airplanes quickly evolved from relatively simple biplanes, to advanced World War II fighter planes and finally to sophisticated jets. HFF’s collection includes iconic planes like the Supermarine Spitfire, Grumman F8F Bearcat, Douglas DC-3 and North American P-51 Mustang and B-25 Mitchell. All have been restored to flying condition, and on Member Fly Days, and at airshows like Aviation Day, the planes take to the skies over Paine Field.
Saturday’s Fly Day opened with the presentation of the colors by local 13 to 18-year-old cadets from the Naval Station Everett Division of the U. S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. Then, it was all about airplanes.
Each Fly Day focuses on an aircraft from the collection, and Saturday’s featured aircraft was “Grumpy,” the museum’s beautifully restored North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell. The B-25 was one of America’s most important World War II aircraft. Nearly 10,000 of the twin-engine medium bombers were built and saw extensive service in both the Pacific and Europe.
John Fredrickson, a noted Seattle aviation author and a member of Historic Flight’s Speaker’s Bureau, began the afternoon with an informative hangar briefing about the development and history of the B-25. North American Aviation is now part of Boeing, and Fredrickson’s presentation, “B-25 History: North American Aviation (NAA) During World War II,” included extensive information about the B-25 that he uncovered in the Boeing Archives, where he is a volunteer.
Grumpy, painted with distinctive decorative nose art of its namesake Disney dwarf, was an appropriate choice for this month’s Fly Day. The plane had recently returned from Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where it participated in the 75th anniversary celebration of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers—led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle—took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and bombed the Japanese capital of Tokyo. The raid was a one-way trip. Unable to return to the carrier after the raid, as their B-25 aircraft were too large to land on the carrier deck, the crews flew until they ran out of fuel and landed in Japanese-occupied China. Eight of the brave crew members were captured by the Japanese, and although most eventually made it back to the United States, four were executed by Japan.
The raid was the first time during World War II that the United States bombed the Japanese homeland, and John Fredrickson noted that although the “military damage done to Japan was not great, it was a big psychological boost for the Americans. It also forced the Japanese to divert some of their military muscle into defensive measures, versus offensive measures.”
John Fredrickson’s talk was followed by a briefing and anecdotes about the Doolittle Raid from Saturday’s pilots, including John Sessions, Historic Flight’s founder and Chairman. Grumpy was scheduled to fly, but as sometimes happens with vintage airplanes, things didn’t go exactly as planned. One of Grumpy’s engines was running rough, and her flight was canceled while mechanics worked on the engine, but there was plenty of other airplane activity.
Visitors watched mechanics work on Grumpy’s engine and run several engine tests, highlighting one of Historic Flight’s charms. HFF is a working hangar, and on any visit, there’s a good chance that you will observe mechanics servicing the airplanes, and if lucky even flying them. And unlike many flight museums, where ropes and barriers keep visitors away from the airplanes, at HFF you can get close to the planes. Be sure to duck as you pass under the airplane wings!
Although Grumpy had a grumpy engine, several other airplanes from the collection—a de Havilland Beaver and North American AT-6 Texan—revved up their engines in front of the crowd, taxied to the runway and took off with passengers. HFF’s motto is “Experience History in Motion,” and flights are available in several of the World War II warbirds and other vintage aircraft, with some museum memberships.
The next opportunity to see HFF’s planes in action is at Paine Field Aviation Day. On May 20, HFF will be one of the hosts for the 22nd annual Paine Field Aviation Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aviation Day begins with an 8 a.m. 5K/10K Run/Walk that begins at Historic Flight and follows a course along the west side of a Paine Field runway, followed by a pancake breakfast. Warbirds from Historic Flight, the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, and Cascade Warbirds will perform flying demonstrations from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. There will also be exhibits, food and music throughout the day.
Visitors are also invited to attend Historic Flight’s upcoming Member Fly Days on June 10, July 15, Aug. 19 and Sept. 16. Drop in to watch the flights, enjoy the barbecue or even take a flight.
Historic Flight is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. See the Historic Flight website to learn more for more about the aircraft and for admission information.
–Story and photos by Michael McAuliffe
Michael McAuliffe is a freelance writer in Edmonds. He can be reached at www.mtmcauliffe.com.