| Construction on the
museum was planned to begin almost immediately after the
flying boat arrived in McMinnville but has been on hold
until recently. Evergreen
International, the main contributor to the effort, fell
on temporary hard times forcing a delay early on in the
project. Work was ready to begin again approximately 18
months ago when tragedy struck. Delford
Smith's son, Michael Smith was killed in a tragic
accident. He was serving as the president of the museum
at the time of his death. The project was again halted
while the family dealt with it's loss and the
organization regrouped. The museum has been dedicated to
the memory of Capt. Michael King Smith. (this F-15
display has been erected in his honor and will greet
visitors to the new facility) There is a real
passion to get the project off the ground now, the group
is more determined than ever to complete the museum.
There's a new man in the museum directors office; noted flyer and former director of Pearson Air Museum of Vancouver, Washington, Gary Thompson. .......Thompson is a modest man and asks we refer to him only as "director of special events," ....it's clear Mr.Thompson has boundless enthusiasm for the project and a love for this plane...It looks like all the pieces are finally in place.
Seeing the old flying boat under the temporary greenhouse covers for so long had raised concerns about the condition of the "Goose." We wanted to find what was to become of the treasure sitting on the back lot of the Evergreen facility. A quick call to them got us invited to McMinnville for a close up look at the project. We met with Gary Thompson on a rainy day recently and spent a delightful time with him and the "Goose". We had worried that a structure made of wood, that had been in a climate controlled environment for most of it's life, might be ruined by exposure to the damp weather in this part of the country. Aside from a few bird droppings and a layer of dust, we found the Spruce Goose to be doing quite well. The plane was made to operate from water and is being well cared for. We were reassured to learn that a dedicated group of volunteers see to the safety of their charge with great affection. "We've got over 25 people that come out here every day, we can't give them anything, they come anyway just to help...it's great" says Thompson, "they've begun to clean out the interior of the plane, taking out some things installed by Disney that are not accurate to the restoration".
After looking around at the disassembled sections from outside.....it was time to get down to business, let's go inside!!
Entering the greenhouse structure housing the
giant plane, you walk up several inclined sections of
ramp to reach the entry level, on the way up, outside the
hull, you begin to get an idea of the immense size of the
aircraft. My first thought as we entered through the
hatch was "this thing is big!" The next
thing that strikes you is the craftsmanship apparent in
the construction of this piece of living history. The
joinery of the laminated wood is so precise, it appears
to be one piece instead of the many layers that it is. I
was struck with the impression of being inside a massive
wooden musical instrument as I looked down the length of
the fuselage. Though somewhat larger than if made of
aluminum, the ribs still look more like metal than wood.
This machine boarders on being art, the workmanship
simply has to be seen to be appreciated. After a tour of
the main deck we made our way to the narrow spiral
staircase that leads to the flight deck.....I needed no
coaxing to go up those steps, getting inside this plane
is a rare treat and we anxious to see the main
office! We walked past the engineering stations where the
many systems of the Goose were monitored. The
instruments, wrapped tightly in plastic for protection,
are still in place on the tables where they sat during
the flight. Approaching the place where Howard Hughes
controlled this beast almost 50 years ago...... Gary
motioned towards the left seat and said the magic
words......"go ahead, sit down, see how it
feels". This was it.....we were going to sit in Mr.
Hughes seat!... Getting into it was no problem.....this
is a roomy flight deck! The view out the front is
surprising, the nose is not visible at all from boss's
chair, sloping away at an angle so steep you can't see
it. The control wheel seems small for such a large plane,
but with the massive hydraulic powered controls, no more
was needed. (the large hydraulic power units on the
lower deck are an interesting part of this plane)
Eight tall power levers dominate the area between the
pilot's well appointed station and the co-pilot's
sparsely instrumented panel.(there is barely enough to
fly with on the right side!) I could almost imagine the
sound the eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines
would have made that day....daydreaming for a moment I
took in all that was around me, this is a special place
in aviation history, the excitement of that moment almost
50 years ago lives on in this place....
The Air Venture Museum plans call for more than just a new house for the H-4, Hughes Flying Boat. There will be many other classic aircraft at the facility and they plan to preserve something else special to aviation.....the sight and sounds of antique aircraft doing what they were created to do....FLY..... Many of the planes to be housed at the new facility are in flying condition, plans call for regular exhibitions of them doing just that. Those of us in the "run outside to see what it is" crowd will certainly enjoy this feature, there really is nothing quite like the sound of the old ones! There are also plans to create an educational program at the facility. This is scheduled to be a large part of what the museum program will be dedicated to; keeping young people in touch with our history. This is something we can always use more of!
Evergreen has dedicated 200 acres for the project, adjacent to it's McMinville headquarters and the 5400 ft. McMinville Municipal Airport. Nestled in the peaceful rolling farmland, within sight of much of Oregon's growing wine country, approximately 38 miles southwest of Portland, the setting is a beautiful one. It's location is also about halfway between Portland and the Oregon coast, making it a prime stop for anyone traveling through this scenic area. If you are driving, the site is on highway 18 just outside McMinville, Oregon. If you are flying, the VOR is on 117.4, follow the 175° radial from there 11.4 miles to the airport. McMinville Municipal is a fairly large airport in runway size but is very much a grass strip in it's mood. At this time tours of the Spruce Goose are not available but you can get up close and sneak a peek through the plastic of the temporary structure. There are several planes on exhibit at the site, including the beautiful ME-109G. The small gift shop has T-shirts and the usual souvenirs of your visit..plus something special for the computer fan ......Spruce Goose mouse pads!
This about brings us up to date on the fate of the Spruce Goose, it's doing fine for now. AAFO.COM, will provide updated information on the progress of the Air Venture Museum as it becomes available. (UPDATE: visit http://www.sprucegoose.org for historic photos, up-to-date information, memorabilia and much more!)
YOU CAN HELP, funding is needed, it's time to get the museum built and this is where those of us that love flying and things that fly enter this story........This is our plane to save.....we can all play a part in the effort. The museum has come up with a great idea. The 50 year old cotton, covering some of the control surfaces, needed replacing to bring the flying boat to museum quality. Normally old fabric would be discarded....... not this time..... it has been saved.They are offering a limited edition certificate, with a small piece of the original fabric that flew that day attached to the lower left corner. They're beautifully done, individually numbered, and signed by Jack Real. Here's our chance to help in this worthy venture to save this old plane and help keep it intact for generations to come.
If you run outside at the sound of any unusual aircraft engine, drive many miles to see them fly or on display, see art rather than structure in the fluid lines of the shape, hear a "song", not noise, from the engines.......you understand the freedom and mystery of of flight. The craft become more than simple machines, creations of man..... yes....but they are much more............This particular aircraft is the only one of it's kind ever built, there will never be another wooden airplane of this size or the history that goes with it. LET'S HELP SAVE HER!
since writing this story early in
1997 much has happened.
Photo credit: Goleta Air &
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