Planes of Fame Air Museum in California and Arizona

The collection of Planes of Fame is probably among the world’s finest of the kind. The group keeps many extremely rare aircraft in full flying conditions, both jet and prop powered warbirds. They also perform flying activities on an almost-regular basis, including a huge airshow taking place in Chino, CA in mid-spring every year.

What is possibly less known is that the collection is hosted in two branches.

The ‘frontline’ branch is in Chino, between San Bernardino and Pomona, Los Angeles area. Here most of their aircraft and all jet planes are preserved in dedicated hangars on Chino Airport, crowded with commercial and private general aviation activities.

The ‘rear’ collection is in a beautiful location in Arizona called Valle, a few miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, halfway between Williams on the Route 66 and Grand Canyon Village. Here especially older aircraft are hosted in a hangar on the local Valle Airport. Thanks to the very thin and dry air, this is an ideal place for storing aircraft even on the outside. Here you can find many recently acquired aircraft used for spares or awaiting restoration.

Flying aircraft from the two branches are often swapped between the two locations, so it may happen to see the same aircraft in either of the two places in different times of the year.

In this small post you can see a series of pics from both brenches of this museum.

Chino Branch, California

This branch is probably where the most famous among the spectacular and rare aircraft of the collection can be found. The majority of those in the hangars, if not all, are in airworthy condition. These include unique early Northrop ‘Flying Wing’, at least two Boeing Stearman, and many exemplars of P-40 and P-51.

Some aircraft from WWII really seem to be ready to spool up and go at any time!

Next comes a hangar with mainly jet aircraft from the early Cold War. These are among the few such aircraft on earth still flying. There are an F-86 as well as British and Soviet fighters.

Another hangar hosts a collection of German and Japanese aircraft from WWII, including a stunning FW190 and a Salamander under Nazi colors, and some extremely rare fighters and light bombers from Japan, including the famous ‘Val’ dive bomber. I’m not sure everything is original here, maybe some of the aircraft are replicas or half-replicas, meaning that there is something original in the aircraft but restoration work included substantial reconstruction of missing or heavily damaged parts.

One of the hangars is custom-made for a P-38, which was out on an airshow when I visited, a P-51 taking its place. Also noteworthy are a group of US divers and torpedo-bombers from WWII, and some other carrier-based aircraft.

A great restoration shop is always busy rebuilding parts and assembling aircraft.

There are more hangars in this branch, but many of them are really cluttered, so room inside is at a premium and many aircraft awaiting restoration are stored outside. At the time of my visit these included F-86, F-100, F-104, an Antonov An-2, not easy to see in this part of the world, and what I think is a mock-up replica of a super-rare Italian seaplane built for the Schneider Trophy competition in the Twenties or early Thirties.

Getting there

The place is between San Bernardino and Pomona, and it can be easily reached from LA. The hangars are on the northern side of the airport. Large parking nearby. Here is their website with hours of operation. Visiting may take from 45 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on your level of interest. As an aircraft enthusiast I especially like to see flying collections and where people restore aircraft. This place is a world-category ‘must-see’ under this respect, similar to few other places in the US and Canada, and to Duxford in Britain.

Please note that there is also another great air museum on the northwestern corner of the same airport, called Yanks Air Museum, which is a different entity. Here is their website.

Valle Branch, Arizona

When driving to the Grand Canyon visitor’s center from the south you will pass by this museum, and it won’t go unnoticed thanks to a handful of big aircraft, including a Constellation, placed in front of it.

This branch is smaller with respect to the main location in Chino, and it is composed by a hangar, with a dozen of aircraft in pristine conditions, almost all of them in airworthy condition.

Some of the aircraft are preserved in restored but ‘cut’ condition, showing the restored inner structure. There are also some parts and memorabilia, including the drop (or egg…) shaped fuselage of a P-38, with full panel.

You can see in the pictures that the Japanese ‘Val’ bomber is the same I photographed in Chino in the previous section another year… this is a proof aircraft from this collection can actually fly!

Many aircraft awaiting restoration are waiting their turn on the outside, i.e. on a corner of the apron of Valle Airport, which is an active mainly leisure airport a few miles south the commercial airport of Grand Canyon Village.

Besides the aircraft in need of some restoration work – including a former aircraft of the Blue Angels Team – at the time of my visit there were also some aircraft parts, engines and what appeared to be a full KC-97 tanker which had a close encounter with a crazy scrapman…

Light and air quality in this area are unrivalled, and if you are interested in taking photographs, this is a place to be!

Getting there

The museum is a unmissable sight along route 64 driving from Williams to the Grand Canyon rim. Website with full information here. This may be a nice 45 minutes addition to your full day in the National Park.

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