Museum gives public look at flying history

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C-123 Thunderpig
The C-123 Thunderpig undergoing its annual inspection at the Air Heritage Museum at the Beaver County, Pennsylvania, airport. (Sam Moore photo)

In 1952 and 1953 there were a bunch of young guys who hung around Harry Yokel’s Sunoco station in the heart of Chippewa near Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

We were all enormously proud of our cars and used the little gas station as a headquarters where we met before setting off on the adventure of the evening.

Drag racing

At this same time they were building the Beaver County airport just a mile up the road, and after the runway was paved, we sneaked onto it a time or two to drag race. That was the last time I was at the airport until a few weeks ago when I visited the Air Heritage Museum which occupies a 14,400 square foot hanger there.

Airplane memorabilia

The museum has a room that’s filled with flying memorabilia, photos and paintings, models, uniforms and equipment, bomb sights, instrument panels and other aircraft parts, including some from the German Luftwaffe and the Imperial Japanese Air Force of World War Two.

Above this room is an extensive research library full of publications on pilot training, aircraft maintenance, aviation history, and a host of aeronautical subjects.

Jet fighters

Outside on the tarmac are parked two USAF jet fighter planes on static display, an F-15A Eagle and an F-4C Phantom II, along with a British Jet Provost T-3 training aircraft, and a couple of others that I didn’t write down the information for and promptly forgot their designations.

There is a freshly painted World War II-era Douglas C-47 transport plane which is documented to have air-dropped supplies into surrounded 101st Airborne Division troops in Operation Varsity. Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and participated in Operation Varsity, the largest single day airborne operation of the war, where it towed a pair of Waco troop carrying gliders.

This particular C-47 was flown by Captain Edward Frome and was assigned to the 75th Troop Carrier Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Force s 9th Air Force.

In addition to the missions mentioned above, the plane flew many resupply and wounded evacuation missions before VE Day.

Proud of collection

The museum staff is understandably quite proud to have this aircraft in the collection and is working hard to get it restored to flying condition before summer. Inside the huge hanger is a lot of stuff too much to take in in a single visit but I’ll tell of what I remember. Dominating the space, which is a working museum, is a Vietnam War era C-123K Provider transport plane that was built by Fairchild for the USAF.

The Thunderpig

Nicknamed the Thunderpig, the big plane isn’t always inside it’s undergoing its annual mandatory inspection and is flown to air shows around the country during the summer. The C-123K is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial engines (about 2300 HP each) assisted originally by two GE-17 turbo jets, which are not currently mounted.

Nine cylinders

Radial aircraft engines are normally of 9-cylinder configuration and to make an 18-cylinder a pair of 9-cylinders are stacked, one in front of the other. With its 100-foot wingspan, 76-foot length, and 34-foot height, the Thunderpig is a BIG airplane, and can carry 62 troops or 12 tons of equipment in its boxcar-sized cargo area at a cruising speed of 186 MPH.

There are several other aircraft inside the shop in various stages of restoration. One is a pretty well stripped down Funk B-75-L, a small (35-foot wingspan) high-wing two-seater plane that was made during the 1930s by the Funk Brothers of Akron, Ohio, who powered their planes with an engine based on the Ford Model B power plant.

Stashed in a corner of a storage area is a circa-1948 Beechcraft T-34 Mentor propeller-driven, single-engine, military training aircraft with the wings removed a work in progress. A couple more planes are in the shop as well but I don’t remember them all.

Leasing space

In another corner is a fascinating project; a club member is leasing the space to scratch-build a full-size and operational British RAF Spitfire fighter plane from the original plans. The fuselage is mostly complete and covered, as are the wings and tail.

A V-12 Allison aircraft engine is mounted and the propeller is attached. This will be something to see when completed, although there s a lot of work yet to do.

First flight

An accurate Ω-scale replica of the plane in which Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is displayed, as is a Link Trainer, the device in which thousands of World War Two pilots were trained to fly by instrument in low visibility conditions.

Jeep restoration

About the only non-aircraft related item in the museum is a nicely restored M38A1 Jeep with a pedestal mounted M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun. The jeep is frequently driven in parades.

Get a tour

The day I was there, I was given a warm welcome by Donna, while Dave, one of the half-dozen men who were working on various projects, took the time to give me an extensive and knowledgeable tour of the place. If you ve never visited this nearby museum and are interested at all in the history of flight,

I highly recommend a tour. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Sunday and holidays, and admission is free, although donations are accepted.

Airplane rides

Something else to consider: On May 26-30, there will be a 1929 Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor aircraft (the famous Tin Goose ) giving rides at the museum. I say giving, but there will be a charge for these rides.

Riding history

So if you’re interested in riding in an authentic piece of history, book your flight now at http://www.eaa.org/en/eaa/flight-experiences/fly-the-ford-eaa-ford-tri-motor-airplane-tour. The Air Heritage Museum’s website is at http://www.airheritage.org.

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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.

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