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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/CNET

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.

Here's a look around.

Eisenhower and D-Day

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.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

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.

General Lyon

The Lyon Air Museum was founded by Major General William Lyon, whose name might sound familiar. He also founded William Lyon Homes, a major home builder since the 1950s. 

The museum is open almost every day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Throughout the year they have "open cockpit" and other events that show these pieces of history really coming alive.

Check out the gallery above for a look around the museum.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.