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Rare and fabulous flying machines of fabric and wood at WAAAM

The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum has an incredible collection of airplanes from the first half of the 20th century, and amazingly, almost all still run. Here's a look inside.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Most air and car museums show their machines like still-life art. They're usually cleaned and dusted, but they don't run. They're shuffled around on dollies like statues of steel and chrome. 

At the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, however, they keep these planes and cars running. Nearly every vehicle in the museum could be fueled up and flown out, or driven out, for a Sunday spin. That is exceptionally uncommon for a museum, especially one with so many rare aircraft that date from the dawn of human flight.

From early biplanes to Model T's, muscle cars to WWII fighters, here's a look at some of the incredible machines at WAAAM.

Working wings

The white hangars of WAAAM could be any industrial park, and unlike other air museums there's no multitude of aircraft scattered outside.

Inside, though, is a wonderland. One of the docents was nice enough to show me through part of the museum and answer some questions. Hearing that almost all the aircraft and automobiles at the museum were actually flyable/drivable blew my mind. I've seen countless old and antique aircraft but most didn't actually fly. That'd be crazy. These are 100-year-old wooden airframes and in some cases the sole remaining example of their type. Who would be crazy enough to risk a crash? Imagine the phone call to the insurance company on that one.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Knowing they were usable vehicles added a whole new dimension to the museum. These aren't static statues, but working examples of another time. Raucous radial engines of middling power and worse efficiency were somehow able to pull delicate wood and fabric aircraft aloft.

During my visit on a cold, wet, snow-covered day in the late winter I didn't get to see any flights, but in one of the hangars several volunteers were working on several antique cars, getting them ready for future display. During the summer some of the aircraft wow crowds at fly-ins. 

Rarity in flight

It's a treat to see an impressive collection of such old aircraft. There's obviously a lot of love and time that went into the WAAAM, and it shows. I wish there was more info at the museum about each aircraft, but its website has the histories of most of the vehicles, so keep your phone handy.

The WAAAM is also a bit out of the way for most people, being an hour east of Portland and further afield than two other great air museums in the area, Tillamook and Evergreen. However, the drive up the Columbia river is gorgeous. WAAAM is well worth the trip for anyone who appreciates this era of aircraft. 

The gallery above might tide you over for now.

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.