By Fred Delkin
Motorists traveling U.S. 101 can scarcely ignore an unusual sight just south of Tillamook, a huge curved structure standing in pastureland with a faded “Air Museum” painted on the exterior. We, like an expected majority of travelers, don’t pull off the highway to investigate. Finally, we did a few weeks ago, and enthusiastically urge every soul passing by to experience a truly remarkable display. Within the confines of a World War II naval blimp hangar, one finds a collection of 30 restored, flyable warbirds that soared during the past century’s conflicts.
As you drive up to the museum, you realize the incredible dimensions of a 1,072-foot long cantilevered structure that encompasses an area equivalent to five football fields, with a roof soaring 192 feet, or over 15 stories…and, it’s all wood, perhaps living up to a claim that this is the world’s largest existing wooden building. This behemoth was rapidly (within one month) thrown up in 1943 to house a U. S. Navy squadron of K-class blimps to patrol the coast to spot Japanese incursions. You are in Hangar B, whose twin, Hangar A, burned in 1942. B was converted to a public museum in 1994.
The contents for your inspection include the top fighter aircraft Americans flew over Europe and the Pacific…P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, Grumman Wildcat, and the F4U Corsair. These machines’ opponents are represented by a Messerchmitt F109 and a Japanese Zero. You can see a restored WWI French Nieuport that was the first combat plane flown by Americans. The Korean and Cold Wars are represented by a Russian Mig 17
Carrier bombers include a TBM Avenger torpedo carrier and a SBD Dauntless dive bomber that played a winning role in the Battle of Midway. Other planes displayed include a PBY Catalina flying boat and a DC3 twin engine transport, a venerable design that is still flying in the arctic regions of the U.S. and Canada, and chronicled on the television weather Channel’s “Ice Pilots” series.
The craft that trained U. S. Air force pilots for WWII, the Stearman biplane and the A-6 Texan monoplane reside here. You’ll find Bell and Kaman helicopters, the F-6 Duck seaplane that catapulted off naval surface ships, and a hulking Boeing 377 Stratocruiser cargo craft. There are other aircraft too numerous to mention. Then there is a room with equipment used to pump helium through hoses feeding the blimps originally housed here. There is a grouping of wheeled vehicles that served on WWII airbases.
Portable walls are adorned with WWII patriotic posters, and large foldout display surfaces show a masterful collection of photographs of combat operations involving aircraft on the museum floor. There are several mounted cockpits used for military pilot training and open to curious kids and adults. Speaking of children, this is a ‘can’t miss’ destination for a family.
The premises include a theater at the entry point that projects a fact-filled film introduction to the collection on display and the incredible construction effort that created the hangar. Then you walk unfettered among the exhibits, with information placards identifying each aircraft. There is a sit-down café and a large gift shop area to delight the tykes with toys and memorabilia for adults. A sprawling free parking area is adjacent to the entry.
It should be noted that most of the aircraft on display are flyable, maintained by history buffs and many are flown to be showcased at air shows.
We congratulate those responsible for launching and maintaining a very memorable experience. Punch up tillamookair.com for further facts and get you and your family to Tillamook for a visit to an attraction that rivals most any along our seashore.