History is in the air here
- Paul Duchene
- Portland Tribune - Features
Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville has the plane facts
If all goes well, by next spring the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville will have both the biggest and the fastest planes on display.
A sinister-looking SR-71 'Blackbird' spy plane will join Howard Hughes' 'Spruce Goose' flying boat in the museum next April. Meanwhile, the Spruce Goose will be open to the public at the beginning of the year.
The museum currently is waiting on the dismantling of SR-71 number 61-7971 at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California for shipment, says Mike Wright, the museum's head of vintage aircraft maintenance and restoration.
The crew at Edwards already has removed ejector seats and various secret parts from the plane, but it can't be flown to McMinnville because it needs a 15,000-foot runway to land, Smith says. So, the plane will trucked to McMinnville.
The reassembled Blackbird eventually will join the Hughes flying boat and 41 other planes in the 121,000-square-foot museum, which was built in 1999.
One of only 21 remaining of the original 50 made, the museum's Blackbird was built in 1966 and was active through 1997, says Tom Pugh, a retired SR-71 pilot. Satellites replaced SR-71 duties, but Pugh still remembers the planes fondly.
'It's quite different than any other aircraft, mainly due to the extreme high altitude and ultrahigh speed,' he says. 'Flying at 85,000 feet at 2,200 miles an hour, you can see 700 miles and sense the curvature of the earth. It's a wonderful experience, in a class by itself.'
The museum's star attraction remains the enormous Spruce Goose, considered the biggest plane to have ever flown. It nearly reaches the 79-foot museum roof and has wings that span 320 feet Ñ more than a football field. The plane has eight engines.
The Spruce Goose was the eccentric Hughes' idea of how to transport troops and weapons across the Pacific near the end of World War II. It wasn't completed in time and only flew once, in 1947. Hughes kept it in an air-conditioned hangar until he died in 1976. It was displayed in Long Beach, Calif., until 1992, when Evergreen bought it.
The museum's core displays are World War II fighters and bombers Ñ a perfect match for the 100 docents who flew many of the planes.
Bill Jarvis, 78, comes from Sheridan to volunteer at the museum. Sitting in his wheelchair by a shiny Boeing B-17, he's an authority on the aircraft, also known as the 'Flying Fortress.' He flew 30 missions over Germany as pilot of the 'Bobby Lee,' starting in 1943, before P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang long-range escorts were available.
'The Spitfires would accompany us as far as France, where the Messerschmitts (German fighter planes) would meet us,' Jarvis recalls. 'Luckily, they didn't have much range, either.'
Luck was indeed on Jarvis' side. None of his 10-man crew were injured on their tour 'though we had a lot of damage. That was one tough plane.'
The museum also has one of the best Messerschmitt Bf-109G fighters in existence. It flew in Bulgaria in 1945 Ñ its history is known because an elderly German visitor to the museum recognized it as a plane he'd maintained in his youth.
There's also a Supermarine Spitfire XVI, rescued from display on a pole outside an English airfield, a twin-engine P-38 Lightning and a gullwing Corsair once flown by the El Salvador air force. That plane is shown with the onboard markings of pilot Oscar Chenoweth of Salem, and it's called 'Ruthless II.' Chenoweth's wife, Ruth, divorced him while he was overseas.
The rare BD5 Micro was built by Calvin Butler of Bend, who spent '20 years and 11,700 hours of therapy' building it. Some notes next to the tiny plane observe: 'Most that do fly tend to stay in gliding distance of an airport.'