Then Maloney did what has led him to many an airplane since: He started "asking around." He found that the owner had died and that the airplane now belonged to his wife, who had stored it in a warehouse, and was willing to sell. "So I bought it from her and assembled and restored it," he says.
Keep 'em Flyin'
In a fenced lot outside one hangar sits a B-17 without its war paint. The last active Flying Fortress in the U.S. Air Force,
Piccadilly Lilly II retired in 1959. "This is the B-17 that was used in the television series ‘Twelve O'Clock High' years ago," Maloney says. "We'd like to put it back in the air, but we've only raised enough money to paint it."
The museum stopped flying it in 1975. "It's a lot of work," Maloney says, "and we just have so many mechanics and we keep quite a few airplanes flyable so we just decided to park it for a while and then come back to it."
Still, it's the flying aircraft and the experience of seeing and hearing them come alive again that make the museum so remarkable. Over the years, former B-17 crew members—pilots, crew chiefs and gunners—have showed up to hang around and reminisce about the missions they flew. The sights and sounds and smells of working aircraft renew powerful memories of what it was like back then. For younger visitors, flying aircraft create an experience that static displays or history books could never match.
One of the museum's finest possessions is the Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero fighter, the only flying A6M5 with the original Nakajima Sakae 31 engine, a 14-cylinder radial that produces 1,200 horsepower. "About 12 of them were captured on Saipan in June 1944, along with some spare engines and parts," says Maloney. The Navy brought the aircraft back to the United States, gave half of them to the U.S. Army Air Forces, and restored four of them for flight tests. Maloney bought it from a scrap dealer. There were no documents with it, but while he was stripping paint from the aft tail, he found a number—61-120—and started piecing together its story. The number was the designation of the Japanese military naval air group.
"I've done all the history on it," says Maloney, "and I even have the logbook from the Navy. They invited all the leading test pilots from Northrop, Boeing, North American, Grumman, Ryan, and Convair to fly these airplanes. They could also fly the Navy fighters so they could compare performances. Charles Lindbergh flew it at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland in October 1944." Maloney also corresponded with the aircraft's designer, Jiro Hirokoshi. The museum has taken the Zero to Japan on three occasions to fly it for audiences there, the first time in 1978 for a ceremony to honor the souls of departed military pilots. Most recently, the museum also took a P-51 Mustang along to show them together.
For his efforts at preserving aviation history, Maloney was inducted in 2001 into the Experimental Aircraft Association's Hall of Fame. In 2006, the Society of Air Racing Historians honored his collection of racers by awarding him the Cliff Henderson award, named for one of the founders of the Cleveland Air Races.
As the years went by, the airplanes Maloney had bought at scrap or bargain rates became rare, and well-heeled trophy hunters entered the collecting game. Prices soared. Although Maloney has never let up in his 50-year "treasure hunt," as he sometimes calls it, the competition has gotten much stiffer for a museum that often had to struggle to stay in business. Inevitably, some prizes slipped through his fingers.