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.

Inside the World’s Largest Aircraft – Antonov 225 Mriya

I am not sure this post does fit in the ‘sightseeing’ category. If you go to Malpensa – the largest airport of Milan – on a regular day, it’s unlikely you will spot the distinctive shape of the unique six-engined Antonov An-225. Yet in this post I will give a pictorial description of this crazy flying machine, so that wherever and when you should see the Mriya, here is what you might expect. This aircraft is a moving attraction, so exceptional that I feel going out to photograph it is still ‘sightseeing’ in some sense…

I had the chance to climb on it one night in early 2015, thanks to Paolo, a friend of mine from Italy, who is working in the company operating the airport system of Milan. The huge aircraft had been going in and out of Italy on an almost regular basis for some weeks, tasked with moving military equipment from central Africa back to the Italian soil.

It was a matter of coordination between me and Paolo, and of course some luck was involved, for the landing and take-off times of the Mriya are usually in the middle of the night and not perfectly predictable, plus good weather is never assured especially in winter. Anyway, in the end I succeeded in arranging a private visit to the Mriya with Paolo and another friend of mine. Paolo registered us as official visitors, so being there and allowed to walk on the apron of the largest airport in Northern Italy, we could come close also to some other interesting items.

The following photos are about that incredible night.

Sights

Mriya Parked

When we went on the apron the plane was still resting on its many (32) wheels, with doors closed and nobody around. The flight scheduled for that evening was basically a ferry flight to Africa, so no loading operations were expected. We were free to walk around taking pictures.

You may see how big this aircraft is by comparing its size to that of the guys walking under it. You will feel like walking close to a moored cruising ship more than an aircraft…

Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner

While waiting for the crew to come to the aircraft for departure, we came close to a Dreamliner preparing for a flight to India. It still retained its ‘new plastic’ smell. Among the most distinctive features of this model are the beautiful engine nozzles, with a toothed profile for noise suppression.

Emirates Airbus A380

We had the chance to see an A380 taxiing to the gate after arriving from Dubai. This double-decker is really impressive, as you can see again looking at the size of the people walking under its wings. Yet this time this was not the star of the show…

We walked up to the cabin, but were not allowed to take pictures. As it is the case for most modern aircraft, the cockpit is not so fascinating especially when the electronics are switched off – you just have an array of TV scopes…

Inside the Mriya

We then went back to the Mriya to meet the crew and walk in. The crew is composed by about ten people, including those connected with flight operations and those responsible for payload.

You get access to the aircraft through a hatch with an attached ladder. Otherwise, when the cargo door to the front is open, you may access the aircraft from there. There is no cargo door to the back.

The inside is structured with a main cargo deck in the central section of the aircraft, with a built-in crane capable of moving a 5 ton load. There are apparently no hooks on the ground, they possibly fasten the payload to the sides, but I’m not sure. The tail cone section can be accessed through an internal hatch for inspection, and cannot host any payload.

Along the sides of the cargo bay there are tons of bulky items and tools for servicing, spare parts including wheels, gauges connected with the landing gear operation, and small round windows to allow visually checking the wings and the engines underneath. The main cargo section is closed to the front by the folding platform for cargo loading, resting in a vertical position in flight, when the nose cargo door is closed and the nose cone lowered.

A retractable ladder gives access to the cockpit and crew resting area, which is configured in a similar fashion to the upper deck of the Boeing 747. To the front from the hatch on top of the ladder you get access to the seats of the flight engineers and to the cockpit. Seating in the engineering compartment is for four people, but I guess this was necessary for operating the Buran or for more complicate missions. Anyway, I would say at least a crewman for each side would be needed for normal flight operations. Seating in the cockpit is for two, and the arrangement of controls and gauges is neat and linear.

I would have spent one month in the engineering compartment to check every item in detail – tons of late Cold War items, and everything so Soviet-looking! – but this was not a day-off visit for the crewmen, who were busy with preparing the aircraft for the flight. To the back of the access hatch the quarters for the crew include two side compartments for living and sleeping, a small galley and a large storage room. From there it is possible to look through a window to another compartment to the back, with clusters of electronic material and other stuff, close to the wing section.

I noticed the usual placard with evacuation routes, and other strange knobs close to the upper-deck access ladder. Close to the side door of the aircraft the crew has many stickers from various places visited with this wonderful aircraft, and a bell like that of a 19th century ship!

Boeing 747 Cargo

Waiting for the Mriya to depart, we boarded a brand new Boeing 747 cargo of the Russian company ABC cargo. The contrast between this and the Antonov couldn’t be more striking. This new 747 has a fully automatic cargo deck, with a really impressive plethora of sensors and a system of rails to safely fasten cargo pallets. The flying deck is very comfortable and modern, with the typical brownish Boeing plastic, clearly reminding you this aircraft was ‘proudly manufactured in the USA’!

Mriya Leaving

We finally went back to the Mriya to follow the departure sequence. The aircraft was pushed back with a dedicated towing strut, coping with the twin-mast front undercarriage. This item travels with the aircraft, so before engine startup it is necessary to open the front cargo door and load this gear, pushing it inside by pure handwork. The front undercarriage is tilted, lowering the front of the plane and making loading operations possible. After that, a crewman closes the side access door and startup of the six engines is initiated.

I shot a video during engine spool up, posted on my YouTube channel broadbandeagle.

Note

As I wrote at the beginning, this is a ‘special report’ and not a post with many how-to notes. I hope you got an idea of how the An-225 looks inside, but I was clearly lucky to be allowed on this special tour. All thanks go to Paolo, who invited me to join in, registering me as an official visitor. I dare to say that if you don’t know somebody doing his job and with his passion for aeronautics, then unfortunately you’ll hardly have a chance to board this aircraft and see the inside… unless you do his job yourself, or they retire the aircraft and put it in a museum!

Flying over Mt. Rainier and Mt. St.Helens

Among the most famous sights in Washington State, these two mountains are aligned along an ideal north-south line developing from Seattle down towards the Oregon border. Similarly to most of the West Coast, the area is a section of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Actually, Mt. St.Helens did explode with a spectacular eruption in 1980, revealing its real deadly nature. What may be worrying is the similarity between the isolated peak of Mt. St.Helens and some other mountains in the area, like Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and the highest and most prominent of all, Mt. Rainier. It is likely these – and other – formations around the areas of Seattle and Vancouver may turn out to be ‘privileged points’ for an eruption some day…

In the meanwhile, they are very characteristic spots in the beautiful, uncontaminated landscape surrounding the nice area of greater Seattle.

Being fascinated with the natural beauties of this area, and also with aviation – as you might guess from this website of mine! – we set off in a party of three with the idea of exploring Mt. Rainier and Mt. St.Helens from above.

Surfing the web I noticed there are several companies offering tours of the area in front of Seattle. Actually, the region is a small ‘angle of paradise’ for those with a thing for general aviation and small-scale air transport, especially seaplanes. Kenmore Air is one of the few remaining commercial companies offering regular services from downtown Seattle to the islands around with some good old De Havilland one-engined, propeller-driven seaplanes!

Being interested not just in taking off and making a couple of circles around downtown Seattle, I had to dig something more, making sure to avoid some always-present tourist traps – being a pilot myself, I knew a bit of the likely cost of the flight I was looking for, so I could easily spot traps. I finally found a very good solution with Fly Seattle Scenic (website here).

I contacted Rick Dominy, a certified commercial pilot and a nice guy operating his beautiful Cessna 210 Turbo Centurion for that company, and we met directly at Renton airport – the quarters of this small company are to the west of the airfield, besides the general aviation apron. We agreed on the flight plan, which would go to Mt. Rainier eastern side, Mt. St.Helens, with multiple circles over the crater, and back to Renton passing to the western side of Mt. Rainier.

We paid and boarded the aircraft. Turbo 210 is a 310 hp beast of a Cessna, not the usual 150 or 172 training aircraft, despite some basic similarities with the latter in the layout. Rick’s exemplar is in perfect shape. The cabin is very roomy and clean, we were all given intercom headphones, I was seated in the co-pilot seat – just in case… – and having a high wing with no lift strut below and a retractable landing gear, unlike more basic Cessnas the view to the side and downwards is absolutely unobstructed – perfect for enjoying the view and taking photographs!

Here follow some photos of this flight (August 2012).

Sights

First a look to the aircraft and around Renton, just a few miles south of downtown Seattle, close to Tacoma Airport. Renton is where another branch of Boeing has its hangars. You can see many brand new 737s, still unfinished. This branch is pretty large. The airport at Renton is also a base for general aviation activity, like Fly Seattle Scenic.

Following takeoff we turned south towards Mt. Rainier, which could be already seen in the distance, about 35 miles South. While climbing we could enjoy the beautiful landscape of Washington State, with an embarrassing high number of small airports around.

Mt. Rainier is about 14400 ft, and the top part of it is surrounded by several distinct glaciers. We approached from north and we passed by the eastern side of the mountain. The bottom part is very nice with woods and small mountain lakes.

Among the ice rifts on the eastern side of the peak we could spot two huts, with ‘ant-people’ moving along trails on the icy surface. We flew over the large parking by the trailhead for some of the trails climbing to the top of Mt. Rainier.

Leaving Mt. Rainier towards the south we could already spot Mt. St.Helens, some 50 miles away. Between these two isolated peaks, again a nice wild landscape, mostly pine woods. The crater of Mt. St.Helens is not symmetrical, cause the volcano exploded towards the northern side of the mountain. Approaching from north, we could see inside the crater very well. The scenery is very different from around Mt. Rainier, with almost no vegetation even at lower altitudes were the eruption hit more violently. All trees were wiped out and the soil became too acid for regrowth.

Still today, many of the trunks of the trees pushed away by the eruption are floating on a lake at the bottom of the peak. Approaching the southern rim of the crater we spotted more ‘ant-people’, taking a rest after reaching the top of the volcano.

The rocky dome in the middle of the crater is still exuding some worrying vapors… The summit is about 8300 ft, so there are snow and small glaciers also here.

After some circles over the lake and crater, we set our course again for Mt. Rainier, first overflying the valley of Hoffstadt Creek, where the snow which was melted by the volcano generated a flood at the time of the eruption, which somewhat reshaped parts of the valley. Today some dams regulate the flow of the creek.

The western side of Mt. Rainier appears to be the steepest, again with various glaciers perfectly visible. They are much larger than they might seem in the photographs!

Past Mt. Rainier we descended rapidly towards sea level, heading for our home base. The landing was perfect. Just before it, we had a glance at SeaTac and downtown Seattle from the distance.