Aviation history still flies at the Lyon Air Museum
Beautifully restored and maintained World War II aircraft, nearly all still airworthy, are a sight to behold at this Southern California museum.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Air museums, big and small, tend to have tend to have one thing in common: they're museums. I know, I know, this is obvious. Hear me out. They're often static places to admire machines of the past. Some air museums (usually the better ones) tend to take immaculate care of their pieces of history, but others that let their aircraft age are no less interesting. Still others are special for another reason: Their history lives.
Take, for instance, the Lyon Air Museum, just south of Los Angeles in Santa Ana, California. Nearly every aircraft in its collection is able to fly, and most of them regularly do. The pristine aircraft look as new as they did when first delivered decades ago. And given the museum's World War II focus, this is all the more impressive.
The museum is in a hangar at the John Wayne Airport, so throughout your visit you'll hear aircraft taking off and landing. You'd be surprised, but most air museums lack this aural charm. Inside, everything is spotless -- from the floor, to the aircraft and the many classic cars on display.
My first stop is in front of the largest aircraft here, a B-17 named Fuddy Duddy. It's one of the later G variants, identifiable by its prominent chin turret. Fuddy Duddy started life as a VIP transport in the Pacific and once carried future president Dwight Eisenhower. Later it worked as a water bomber and was even featured in the movies Tora! Tora! Tora! and The War Lover.
The museum's B-25 was undergoing maintenance during my visit. Some of the panels were off and engineers were working on the engines. One of the docents tells me that though the aircraft overall is airworthy, it exceeds the airport's stringent noise restrictions. Crews are working on making it quieter.
At the far end of the museum are two C-47/DC-3s. It's the one in civilian livery that's most interesting. Named Flagship Orange County, it was converted to a DC-3 airliner later in its life, having been built in the early 40s as a C-47A. Stationed in southwest England, it flew paratroopers of the 101st Airborne across the English Channel to Drop Zone D in the early morning of June 6th, 1944, as part of the Allied invasion of Europe. How's that for some history?
Nearby is a relic of the opposite side of that war. A 6-wheeled Mercedes G4 that once carried Hitler himself through Poland shortly after his troops invaded.
An A-26 Invader with a toothy grin, a T-6 Texan with a mirror-like finish, and several showroom-shiny Cord, Packard and Duesenberg pre-war cruisers are some of the other highlights of the museum.