Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Planes of Fame, Chino (CA) - History Hamburgers and Horsepower by Owen Zupp

Just finished a great aviation eBook, written by Australian Pilot/Author Owen Zupp. "50 Tales of Flight", takes the reader aloft in everything from biplanes to Boeings as the tittle may suggest. From the alarm clock buzzing to begin the airline pilot's day to the sound of silence when the engine fails and all that lies beneath are trees and cliffs.

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One chapter of the book is about one of the most exciting airports in the US; not because of its scenic approach, cheap fuel or great food at the airport restaurant; but because of the number of exceptional people and aircraft based there. Chino (CA), is an airport with a soul, a place where opportunity takes flight!

As I recently visited Chino on an Aviation Photography trip around the Los Angeles area; Owen gladly accepted for me to quote part of the chapter. So all of the text below is his. Please make sure that you pick up a copy of "50 Tales of Flight" here, if you like what you read. Enjoy!

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“As settings go, the warbird enthusiast would be hard pressed to beat Chino Airport in southern California. Forty minutes from downtown Los Angeles and nestled amongst rural properties, the airport has a backdrop of snow-capped mountains which exist in perfect harmony with the warming influence of the Santa Anna breeze. An absolute setting of nature at its finest, yet at any given moment the peace can be shattered in the nicest possible way; by the awe-inspiring roar of an aircraft from a bygone era, refusing to go silently into history.

North American Sabre F-86

The time warp can begin from the minute you drive into Chino. Tucked between hangars and huts sits Flo’s Diner, an absolute must for any visit to the airfield. Behind the old screen door waitresses hustle about with pots of coffee as jacketed pilots, engineers, and enthusiasts hunch over the nearby counter. The coffee is black, the eggs are over-easy and the menu keeps cardiologists in business. The walls are all but hidden by yellowing posters proclaiming support for ‘Our Boys’ at war and an array of photos portraying long gone men and machines. The background hum of conversation sits well with the bustle of laden trays and creates an atmosphere that has seemingly remained unchanged for over half a century. Flo’s is more about character than cuisine.

It’s best to breakfast at Flo’s as lunch won’t leave you with adequate time to dawdle through the two major museums at Chino; ‘Planes of Fame’ and ‘Yanks’. The former is synonymous with the airfield, whilst Yanks is a relative newcomer, though no less impressive. Both are a treasure trove of aircraft that date back to before World War One, though the roaring piston engined aircraft of the second major conflict definitely make up the bulk of the collections. In company with the early jet fighters, the aircraft are not simply museum pieces and there are many living, breathing and flying examples that cast off the shelter of hangarage and show their wares at a variety of air shows throughout the year. For the fiscally advantaged, there is even the opportunity to back-seat in a P-40 Kittyhawk, or some similar machine. There is so very much on offer.

Boeing Fighter P-12E

The long established, “Planes of Fame” museum welcomes you with a four-engined Flying Fortress on the front lawn. Aircraft from the earliest days of military aviation through to a specifically designated “Jet Hangar”, feature static and flying examples of a vast range. Many of the flying examples have made the trek to the bright lights of nearby Hollywood and starred in such films as Pearl Harbour. Conveniently, the tremendous collection of Japanese aircraft allowed the “Planes of Fame” to participate in both sides of the battle. One such example, the Mitsubishi Zero, transcended the celluloid in times past and flew in actual combat over such Pacific islands as Iwo Jima and Tinian.

MitsubishiZero/Reisen/Zeke A6M5

Wandering amongst the maze of hangars, all manner of aircraft can be encountered. They are from all continents and each come with their own history. French Ace Charles Nungesser’s WWI biplane, a Canadian Spitfire from D-Day or an F-86 Sabre from Korea. The list is all but endless. A particularly attractive display sees the US Navy carrier-based contingent hangared in a style reminiscent of the USS Enterprise. Wings folded and crammed in, the sense of an aircraft carrier is tangible. Complete with side railings, semaphore flags and a shiny deck, the portholes are filled with a treasure chest of nautical memorabilia. It’s a time warp within a time warp.

Starfighter F-104G Belgian Air Force

Like Santa’s workshop with rivet-guns, a number of the hangars are dedicated to renewing or extending the life of these fine machines. Jigs, paint-shops and engine-trestles fill every corner to restore these stallions above and beyond their former glory. 

North American B-25 Mitchell

In one such hangar sits a forerunner of modern day ‘stealth’ technology. The Northrop N-9M is one of a kind, an original flying wing that harks back to the 1940s. Designed as a 1/3 scale flying example of a larger bomber, the N-9M was piloted by a lone pilot and used to prove a unique aerodynamic theory. Whilst its larger brethren did eventuate, it failed to go into major production and it would be decades before the concept was successful in the modern generation of stealth warriors. The museum’s flying wing still takes to the sky and is another example of living history, rather than the dusty cabinets that characterise some collections.

Northrop Flying Wing

Chino is all about such history. Perhaps its greatest assets are not merely the hardware, but the stories that the aircraft have brought with them into a new century. Furthermore, by keeping these aircraft flying it allows the sounds, smells and sense of speed of a bygone era to still be with us today. It was a time before wide-bodies and fuel efficiency; it was about pulling ‘G’ and unadulterated ‘grunt’. Somehow static displays don’t quite capture that.

Macchi Schneider Cub winner M-39

Chino is a step back into history and the origins of aviation. Whilst somewhat removed from modern civil aviation, it is a place filled with interest; of fascinating aircraft and the tales of the people who crewed these amazing aircraft. If after taking in the sights and sounds you’re still feeling a little unfulfilled, don’t forget, there’s always coffee and flapjacks at Flo’s"


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