When I was a kid, three models of fighter jet dominated the media. The iconic F-14 was immortalized in Top Gun. Then there's Iron Eagle and its F-16. Its three (!) sequels were watchable in that "Blockbuster at 9:30 on a Friday night pick-something or we're leaving" way. And as far as the F-15 goes, I hope everyone who wanted one was able to have Starscream … or at least Leader-1.
Today the F-14 is retired, but the F-15 and -16 are still widely in service. While many museums have some or even all of these aircraft in their collections, it's rare to see them all next to each other. The toys of my youth, full-size.
I'm exploring the Yanks Air Museum, in Chino, California. It includes a full restoration shop that rebuilds and restores classic aircraft. Many of the planes at the museum were restored on site. Even more amazing, most of these aircraft are still flyable. Here's a look around.
Aircraft of everyone's youth
I've seen F-16s at other museums before, but its two contemporaries put its diminutive size in sharp relief. To give you a rough idea, the F-16 is like a compact car sitting next to the Mack-truck-esque F-15 and even larger F-14.
Before you get to the jets, however, there's the Legends hanger, where propeller aircraft from the dawn of flight through WWII sit in beautifully restored form. In another rare pairing, there's even an early P-51 Mustang next to a late-model P-51 Mustang. It's amazing to see how rapidly the design progressed during the war. Once you've had your fill of biplanes and gyrocopters and medium-size bombers, you head to the Starfighter hanger, with myriad jets from the end of WWII to the modern era. There's a few more WWII aircraft in here, including an SBD Dauntless, a P-40, and even a Wildcat built by General Motors.
Next I proceed over to the Restoration hangar. A half dozen restorers are working diligently on several WWII-era aircraft. This is a slow process; one restored P-39 took nine years to complete. Finding pieces is always a challenge, as you'd expect. Many of the aircraft they restore here go beyond beautiful museum pieces. They get restored all the way to being airworthy again.
Out back is another gem of this museum: a boneyard. Partially complete aircraft sit in the sun, waiting for their time to be restored to their former glory. It's one of the few boneyards you can actually walk through unsupervised., and took a bunch of pictures.
Protectors of the past
Chino isn't a long drive from Los Angeles. Even better, the drive will let you tour Yanks Air Museum, the boneyard and a whole other air museum on the opposite side of the airport. That one's called the Planes of Fame, and we've got a full tour of that coming soon.
As far as Yanks goes, I recommend timing your visit during one of their special events. Several times a month they'll have things like cockpit tours of some of their aircraft. Air museums are great, but being able to see inside these beautiful beasts is a whole other experience.
But for now, check out the galleries above to see all the hard work the expert restoration team has put into these classic and historic aircraft.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.