The Planes of Fame Air Museum is completely unassuming at first glance. It’s located adjacent to the Chino Airport, the largest non-commercial airport in the region, and surrounded by small dairy farms with and newly developed residential communities. The undecorated exterior is well suited for such open air and wide space surroundings. It is a refreshing locale for a city slicker to travel to for a most unexpected experience. Museeum KIDS had a chance to visit and be pleasantly surprised at every corner’s turn.
Upon entry of the first airplane hangar, your breath is taken away at the sheer size of the building and the enormous machines. It is uncommon for the ordinary person to be in such close proximity of airplanes, but being surrounded by such unique and beautiful airplanes is other worldly. The airplanes each carry such a history, and are radiating with stories to tell of the adventures of their heydays. Each hanger showcases various WWII era uniforms, military memorabilia, and music for a total immersive experience. Each hangar is an amazing space for kids to marvel at and buzz around in the contained yet airy space. The B-17 Flying Fortress display, an Army fighter plane, gives visitors the chance to walk into the aircraft on weekends. We were generously given special privilege to do so on a weekday, and it was such a treat to experience the confined, Spartan interiors and handle the machine gun still attached. We were also given a special opportunity to go under the ropes into the cockpit of one of the beautiful display planes. My son was a little more hesitant to get into the cockpit of the 1950s era fighter plane, but my daughter was more than willing and took the reins of the control panel immediately. We might have a future pilot on our hands!
The museum opened in 1957 in Claremont, California with just 10 planes. It now has over 150 aircrafts with more than 50 flyable. The museum’s current location was once an Army Air Corp flight training facility, which trained over 10,000 pilots prior to the end of World War II. It is befitting that the museum is now home to some of the planes that were flown into combat during that era. It boasts one of the largest collections of Japanese aircraft in the world, along with many rare one-of-a-kind aircrafts. It carries some of the only surviving examples of the specialty aircraft types developed during World War II. Ed Maloney, its founder, was passionate about not only collecting but restoring their machinery so that these historic giants may soar through the skies again for the new generations to experience. The Museum opened a second location on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona in 1995 to accommodate the growing collection and restoration projects.
There have been a number of expansions and renovations over recent years – such as the Aviation Discovery Youth Education Center with hands on displays, theater (open Saturdays), Atrium and larger library which encourages school classes and families alike to enjoy. On the first Saturday of each month, the museum presents Living History Flying Day, which includes a speaker panel of aviation experts, historians and veterans, and a flight demonstration of a featured aircraft. The Planes of Fame Airshow will be held on April 29-May 1, featuring more than 40 WWII aircrafts and special Aerobatics teams from across the country. We can’t wait to go to this event, as we have been seeing the airplanes soaring in formation overhead last summer with much curiosity and excitement. It is an extraordinary sight to behold such rare and historic airplanes fly – it is instant momentary time travel.
The Fighter Rebuilder’s workshop, is an off limits work area, but visitors are invited to peek inside the open doors to view the workers restoring and rebuilding old engines and machinery. It is a great educational opportunity for the young ones. Not only did the kids marvel at seeing the inner workings of these massive stationary machines, but the smell of the oil and sounds of the clanking and whirling really brought these aircrafts to life. I answered to the best of my ability the 1001 questions that followed. The outdoor Jet, Aircraft, Tank and Vehicle Displays area is a garden of historical machinery with a path that leads into the library. It was a great opportunity to give the kids a chance to spread their legs and expend some pent up energy – lots of giggling while running up and down the small trail, pausing intermittently to ask questions about certain things they found interesting. The ride in the helicopter exhibit is an instant favorite and a great photo op for parents.
The Planes of Fame Air Museum is impressive. It is unexpectedly delightful, educational and overwhelmingly nostalgic of the days of decades past. The museum’s mission is to “preserve aviation history, inspire interest in aviation, educate the public, and honor aviation pioneers and veterans” and they’re succeeding to do just that while giving families and kids an opportunity to enjoy the refreshing openness of the serene outskirts of the city.