Last week, after we saw a B-17 bomber flying over Hazel Park, we took to the social networks to find out where it was from. Part of that conversation revealed that somebody had sworn they saw a de Havilland Vampire fly over a few weeks earlier, and another friend noted that one flies out of Detroit City Airport.
We’re glad to say we’ve solved this mystery too. The early jet indeed does fly out of city airport, and it’s part of the collection of the World Heritage Air Museum, which just recently expanded into Oakland County International Airport.
It’s an unusual museum running an atypical collection. Most of the organizations preserving historical aircraft concentrate on the classic World War II era planes. As World Heritage Air Museum co-founder Tom Procter tells us, they have a different focus.
Proctor says, “Our stated mission is that we rescue, restore, and fly Cold War-era jets. There’s a lot of very unusual jet aircrafts from around the Cold War, the post-World War II era, and that’s really what we specialize in. Our aircraft are jets; they come from all over the world. They’re from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. And we are a flying museum; we’re not a static display. So in other words, we get these aircrafts to flight status, we fly them, we take them around the air, we display them, we fly them in shows. And it’s just really a way to highlight these airplanes, which nobody else seems to do.”
It’s a slice of history that isn’t new enough to thrill those into bleeding-edge stuff like drones and raptors, yet isn’t old enough to be seen as quaint.
Proctor says, “There’s this period of time that nobody really knows about, the Korean War, Vietnam War era, and really the emergence of jet technology started making its way into the military and beyond. We have some very unusual and very rare aircraft that are really just kind of neglected in the aviation community. Nobody really pays much attention to them. The jet war bird market has gotten really soft.”
But that can work to the museum’s advantage. Proctor says, “Often it helps, because you can buy one fairly inexpensively, but the maintenance, the upkeep, and the restoration can get expensive.”
Between the airport in Waterford, where they have a new hangar to store and exhibit their planes, and their facilities at city airport, which will serve as their workshop, the museum has 18 planes, eight of them flying. In two years, Proctor hopes they’ll have a dozen jets that can take to the air. Right now, the museum’s working aircraft include a Fouga Magister CM170, an Aero Vodochody L29, a Temco Super Pinto TT-1, a PZL Iskra TS-11, a de Havilland Venom FB 54, and, their oldest, a de Havilland Vampire from the 1950s, the twin-boom aircraft that originally caught our friend’s eye.
A museum devoted to the rise of jet technology? Proctor and company may be anticipating a trend. The jet engine is now a 75-years-old innovation, and people may regard early jets in the same quaint light they do biplanes and zeppelins today. Proctor says, “I guess if you live long enough, what was new now becomes an antique, or what was in style went out of style and came back in style again. We’ve got one jet that’s older than I am,” he says, adding with a laugh, “and I’m not young!”
For more information about the World Heritage Air Museum, see www.worldheritageairmuseum.org.