Still-flying WWII warbirds at the Lyon Air Museum

Get up close to some incredible, and amazingly still airworthy, aircraft at this museum near LA.


Geoffrey Morrison

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Lyon Air Museum

In a large hangar at Orange County's John Wayne Airport just south of Los Angeles, the Lyon Air Museum has an impressive collection of airworthy aircraft.

For the full story behind my tour, check out Aviation history still flies at the Lyon Air Museum

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One of the most impressive aircraft at the museum is their B-17 "Fuddy Duddy." 

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A G for VIPs

A "G" variant, as you can tell from the chin turret, it first flew in April, 1945. It served as a VIP transport, including flying future president General Eisenhower. 

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Climb inside

The hatches were open during my visit, allowing a peak inside. This is under the flight deck, accessible through the opening on the right. The mirror shows the crew positions in the nose. 

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Bomb bay

The B-17 could typically carry between 4,500 lb (2,000 kg) and 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) pounds of bombs, depending on the range of the mission. This was less than several other contemporary bombers, but the B-17 was a legend more for its ruggedness.

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Waist gunners

A view forward shows the waist gunner positions.

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A view aft

From the same spot, looking aft past the tail wheel mechanism you can see the tail gunner position.

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Way in the tail

The tail gunners were well separated from the rest of the crew.

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A local

B-17s were designed and built by Boeing, but also built by Lockheed and Douglas. This aircraft was built by the latter, not far from here in Long Beach, California. Notice the zippered slats to keep out some of the cold air while allowing the guns to pivot vertically. 

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And a movie star

After the war Fuddy Duddy flew as a fire bomber and had film roles in both The War Lover and Tora! Tora! Tora!.

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Bombs away

One of the now-famous, once top-secret, Norden bombsights is on display. In most museums these are behind glass. Here you can look through the scope!

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The view

After pressing a button the box below the sight whirrs and you get a sort of slideshow of what it would have looked like in flight.

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Darth Invader

The A-26 Invader, which for a time was called the B-26, first flew in 1942.

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A long-lived design

The A-26 saw combat in WWII, and is one of the few aircraft from that war to serve all the way to the late 60s with the US Air Force.

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Variants of the A-26 saw use as a bomber, a ground-attack fighter, various reconnaissance roles, and more.

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Double Double Wasps

Each Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial engine developed 2,000 horsepower. Top speed was around 359 mph (578 km/h).

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Feeding Frenzy

The museum's A-26 is the "Feeding Frenzy," which was built in 1945 and started its service in Indochina flown by the French.

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The aviator

After its war service, the Feeding Frenzy was owned by the Hughes Tool Company, and was likely flown by Howard Hughes himself at some point.    

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Flagship Orange County

This DC-3, named "Flagship Orange County," has a rather incredible history. Though it wears American Airlines livery, that's not where its story began.

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It started life in 1942 as a C-47A., the military variant of the DC-3. Then in June, 1944, it was stationed at RAF Exeter in Southwest England.

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The night before the invasion of Europe, it delivered paratroopers from Britain over the English Channel into Normandy. Specifically, she carried members of the 101st to Drop Zone D behind Utah Beach.

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Passenger conversion

After the war she was converted to a DC-3 airliner.

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It flew on two 30-liter, 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engines. Each produced around 1,200 horsepower.

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Though 80 years ago, the Flagship Orange County is still airworthy.

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Cargo hauler

The DC-3/C-47 is one of the most successful airplane designs in history, with over 16,000 built by various companies. Several hundred are still flying today, including this C-47, named "Willa Dean."

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The museum estimates this is one of the most original C-47s still flying. It wears the colors of the 440th Troop Carrier Group's 97th Troop Carrier Squadron along with D-Day invasion stripes.

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Hello there

C-47s were a crucial part of the Allied military, transporting cargo, troops, and dropping paratroopers, throughout WWII and beyond.

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Similar but different

Although the A-26 and B-25 look similar (outside of the different tail design), one of the museum's docents told me they fly very differently. The B-25 is fairly docile aircraft, while the A-26 is more of a beast and far more challenging to fly.

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Twin tails

The B-25 was classified as a medium bomber, and first flew in 1940.  

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B-25s typically had a crew of 5. Some variants had 18 total machine guns, 14 of which could fire forward for strafing runs.

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The museum's B-25, "Guardian of Freedom," is technically airworthy, but has been grounded for noise issues for several years. If your aircraft is too loud, most airports won't let you fly.  

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From Alaska

It started its service life flying patrols in Alaska, then later became a training aircraft.

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Mechanics were working on the Guardian of Freedom during my visit, with the intent of getting it flying (a bit quieter) in the near future.

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Little dog

The Cessna O-1E was primarily an observation aircraft that was in service from 1950 to 1974. One famous O-1 pilot was none other than Ed McMahon.

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Another lovely mirrored-metal aircraft, this is a 2-seat T-6 Texan trainer. Like nearly all the aircraft at the museum, it's still airworthy.

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McQueen's ride

The museum also has a collection of classic cars and motorcycles. Here's a Phelon & Moore Panther, with gorgeous yacht-like sidecar, once owned by actor Steve McQueen.

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I can't drive 55

One of the 80s "continuation" Cobras, a CSX4000, has a monster 7-liter 500 horsepower V8.

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Touch of evil

It's rare to see any Mercedes W31 G4, but this one is especially rare. In it, Adolf Hitler was driven to the front lines shortly after the Germany invaded Poland. 

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Big J

Under the long hood of this 1929 Duesenberg Model J is a 6.9-liter straight-8 that delivered an impressive-for-the-day 265 horsepower.

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30s Packard

This 1934 Packard also has a straight-8, though "only" with 145 horsepower. But it does have one piece of ultra-modern tech: a radio.

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Third 30s classic

The 1937 Cord 812 has a V8 with a transmission in front of the engine driving the front wheels, a fairly rare design even today.

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Back in black

Only 6 1933 Auburn 12-165 Speedsters survive today. 

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Smooth 12

As its name suggests, under the hood of this car is a V12 with 165 horsepower.

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Now this is an interesting vehicle. It's a German Tempo G1200, built before and during WWII. Up front is a 2-stroke, 2-cylinder engine that developed 19 horsepower driving the front axle. 

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And around back

There's yet another engine.

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Simple, yet complex

I would have to assume getting the two engines to accelerate in sync would be the challenging part. The inside looks quite simple, however.

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Bye B-17

One more look at the Lyon Air Museum's Fuddy Duddy.

For more info about the museum and the aircraft within, check out Aviation history still flies at the Lyon Air Museum.

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