Visit to the Planes of Fame Air Museum

by | Feb 15, 2010 | Air Museums, History, Second World War, Travel, War Aircraft

A Visit to the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Arizona

The Mystique of the Planes of Fame Air Museum

Ed Maloney, the founder of the Planes of Fame Air Museum, is an aviation legend. He founded the first air museum west of the Rocky Mountains in 1957. Today, the two facilities of the museum (one in Chino, California) is home to over 150 historic aircraft. Following the 2009 Interna- tional Council of Air Shows and a visit to the Grand Canyon in between snow blizzards, I paid a visit to the museum facility at Valle Airport near Grand Canyon, Arizona. Sitting prominently outside the museum was a Lockheed Constellation dressed ele- gantly in a mound of winter snow. On the nose of the Constellation was the inscription “Bataan” indi- cating it was in the markings of the aircraft used to provide transportation to General MacArthur. As my wife and I made our way into the lobby of the mu- seum, a host of historic aircraft could be seen on the tarmac including a Navy F-11 fighter jet in Blue An- gel colors.

After making our way through mounds of snow, my wife and I made our way into the lobby of the museum and were greeted by Robert Reed and Shirley Sturgill. Bob Reed is the Director of the museum, and Shirley Sturgill is a devoted employee. Due to the inclement weather, Bob excused himself, and Shirley afforded me a brief tour of the museum.

A Brief Survey of the Treasures in the Museum

After we made our way from the lobby into the hangar, the first thing Shirley showed me was the wing to a Yokosuka D4Y Comet aircraft. This was a Japanese aircraft designed as a dive bomber. Early models of the aircraft were employed at the Battle of Midway as reconnaissance aircraft because of their high speed. The aircraft featured an inline engine which was either a German manufactured Daimler Benz engine or a Japanese copy of that engine. Ap- parently, there are other components of this aircraft that was rescued from either the central or western Pacific. One wonders whether the Planes of Fame Museum has aspirations of returning this Japanese aircraft to flight status.

One of four Grumman F3F fighters recov- ered from Hawaii and restored to flight status were on display. The aircraft is a magnificent specimen in highly-polished pre-war Navy colors.

First World War aircraft are also on promi- nent display in the facility. These include a German Seimens Schuckert fighter plane and also a British manufactured F2B fighter. The Seimens Schuckert had a laminated wood fuselage with a large rotary engine on the nose. The fuselage looked somewhat like a barrel. The F2 Bristol fighter is a First World War two seat aircraft with a large radiator on the nose and leather stitching employed to hold the linen panels on the skeleton of the airplane. Another inter- esting First World War aircraft is a Standard aircraft that sits in the facility without any covering. To be clear, the aircraft is intact with its engine, propeller and other systems present, but it has not been cov- ered. The wood structure of the aircraft is pristine.

Bristol F.2B Fighter ‘E2624 - A-4’

An AD-1 Skyraider is featured prominently in the facility and is in excellent condition along with an A-26 Invader.
Perhaps the rarest aircraft at the Planes of Fame Museum in Arizona is a Messerschmitt Bf- 109G-10 fighter. The Messerschmitt was in authen- tic German markings looking just as it might have looked in 1944 or 1945. In contrast to earlier models of the Messerschmitt, the canopy of the aircraft had a “hood effect” without all the bracing and structures of the early model Messerschmitts.

Sitting next to the Messerschmitt was a rep- lica Japanese Navy Type 99 Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomber. This aircraft, like my Kate bomber, was manufactured for the 20th Century Fox film Tora! Tora! Tora! The Val was a relatively large aircraft, looking larger and more robust than a stock BT-13 from which the aircraft was derived. It was quite authentic in its appearance as a Japanese aircraft.

The hangar also housed a number of inter- esting aircraft such as a T-28, a Cessna Skymaster and a Stinson Reliant.

Besides the aircraft collection, the walls were adorned with a number of photographs and artifacts concerning military aviation. Model aircraft also adorned the facility as well as a Second World War Link trainer.

Yokosuka D4Y1 Suisei ‘Judy’ ‘601-35’


The enthusiasm for those affiliated with the Planes of Fame Air Museum was apparent from my interaction with Shirley Sturgill. She loves the old aircraft and is very knowledgeable about them. One can only hope that her enthusiasm is infectious. The lobby and store of the museum include attractive displays of memorabilia and materials available for purchase dealing with Second World War aircraft. The entire facility was spotless and evidences a de- sire to keep the museum in topflight condition.

If your travels take you anywhere near the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a trip to the museum is time well spent.