Historic Flight is an unusual aviation collection because you can walk right up to its vintage aircraft, dating from 1927 to 1957. Look into the cockpits up-close – no roped-off areas. Hear the planes’ intriguing background stories from knowledgeable docents. Watch mechanics work on vintage planes, perhaps inside the hangar or just outside on the tarmac.
Located at the Kilo-7 site on the west side of Paine Field, Historic Flight is the private collection of aviation enthusiast and pilot John T. Sessions. He created the Historic Flight Foundation to collect, restore and share significant aircraft between 1927 (Charles Lindbergh’s solo Atlantic crossing) and 1957 (just before the Boeing 707’s first jet trans-Atlantic service).
Historic Flight opened to the public in 2010. Nearly all its vintage aircraft are meticulously restored to flying condition, and many take to the air during Paine Field’s free Fly Days.
Historic Flight’s collection includes aircraft with great stories, such as the North American Aviation B-25D Mitchell. This early 1940s bomber — a World War II “warbird” — was nicknamed “Grumpy.” It was flown to Historic Flight from Britain in 2009 by
John and fellow pilots; they retraced the primary route used in World War II to deliver thousands of bombers to the European Theatre of Operations. Look for the “Grumpy” cartoon character near its nose cone — where the machine gunner sat — and the many bomb symbols that document how many missions it flew.
Other aircraft have equally amusing nicknames and often an accompanying illustration near the nose or cockpit. Look for the “Impatient Virgin,” a P-51B Mustang fighter that escorted bombers deep into enemy territory during World War II. Next to the illustration are seven Nazi swastikas, showing the number of enemy planes shot down by two pilots.
Between 1944–1945, the “Impatient Virgin” flew more than 700 hours for the 376th North American Fighter Squadron in England — an exceptional record compared to the average 25 hours before irreparable damage. This plane finally crashed and lay scattered/buried in a British beet field for more than a half-century before being rediscovered and restored.
“Wampus Cat” is one of just 10 Grumman F8F Bearcats still flying today. It was an interceptor fighter that defended U.S. Navy fleets from Japanese Zeros and incoming kamikaze attacks. The scrappy little plane goes from brake release at sea level to 10,000 feet in just 96 seconds.
Grumman TBM-3E Avenger gained its “Avenger” moniker after the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941. First deployed in the Battle of Midway, Avengers became the heavyweight bomber in the U.S. fleet. The paint scheme of this Avenger reflects air support during the 1943-44 Battle of the Atlantic when German U-boat submarines threatened conveys.
The Supermarine Spitfire is an agile fighter plane that flew from 1936 to 1957 and served four Air Forces. It was one of the most important fighters ever built and played a vital role in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940.
You can’t miss the bright red Beechcraft Staggerwing D-17S. Its upper wing is staggered behind the lower wing, giving pilots maximum visibility while minimizing the tendency to stall. This plane launched locally in 1944 at Sandpoint Air Naval Station in Seattle, then spent decades flying in Canada and the U.S.
Also look for the 1939 Waco UPF-7 biplane, once flown to encourage people to take their first flight and experience the new aviation industry. Check out the de Havilland Beaver, used in Korea for liaison, observation and search/rescue missions; Piper L-4J Grasshopper, a diminutive spotter plane; and Travel Air 4000 biplane, manufactured in 1927.
The Canadair T-33 Silverstar is now under major restoration, and you may see volunteers working on it if you visit mid-week. Historic Flight also has a DC 3-47B, which John Sessions flew to France to participate in D-Day 75th anniversary events; it will return to Paine Field about July 20.
On July 20, Historic Flight will be participating in SkyFair, hosted by Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field. Watch amazing flights by aircraft from both these vintage aviation collections.
You can also see Historic Flight’s vintage airplanes take to the skies during Paine Field’s free Fly Days on Aug. 3 and Sept. 21. Join Historic Flight as a sponsoring member and then be able to actually fly in one of its planes! For more information: [email protected].
With its vintage aircraft collection growing, Historic Flight will be expanding beyond Paine Field to a new collection facility at Felts Field in Spokane. Construction began last August; opening is slated for this coming October — should you be traveling to Eastern Washington then.
Historic Flight is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission:$15 adult, $12 senior (65+)/military, $10 youth (ages 11-17), free age 10 and under.
10719 Bernie Webber Drive
— By Julie Gangler
Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.