Ed Maloney's Mission
The man behind, beside, and all over, the Planes of Fame Air Museum.
- By Marshall Lumsden
- Air & Space magazine, March 2008
(Page 2 of 6)
For his first purchases, Maloney paid scrap prices. "Aluminum was going for 25 or 30 cents a pound," he says. "At the time, P-51s were going for fifteen hundred dollars." He bought airplanes as well as bits and pieces of airplanes. In the 10 years before he opened the museum, he stored his collection in his own back yard and wherever else he could find space.
Six years passed after the opening before Maloney could devote his full time to the museum. "I held two jobs," he says, recalling the day job in his dad's shop. "I worked nights and weekends on the airplanes. I hired a retiree to keep the museum open during the days. I didn't take any salary. The museum paid for the rent and the electric bill, primarily."
Meanwhile, he made some trips to study what other museums were doing and was discouraged by what he saw. He visited the Smithsonian, which he recalls had some interesting airplanes in an old Quonset hut on the National Mall. He visited the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio, hadn't opened by that time. "Everybody was pretty short on aircraft," he recalls.
He was especially dismayed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Science and Industry. "Here we had the largest production center for aircraft in the country," he says, "and they had three airplanes down there at the L.A. County museum. They had a guy who was director of aeronautics and they buried him in the basement. I went down to visit him and they had a Sopwith Snipe from World War I on loan from the movie actor Reginald Denny. The only other aircraft they had on display was a Douglas World Cruiser. The third one was a Curtiss HS2L flying boat. They left it outside and it finally rotted."
At the time, in fact, Maloney's little collection was the only real air museum west of the Mississippi. Aviation photographer Frank Mormillo remembers the early days: "There was an article in one of the Los Angeles papers with a picture of Ed. This was 1957. I didn't have a driver's license yet, so my dad drove me to Claremont. It was basically a dirt lot with a bunch of rocks. It wasn't really a building, it was a flat concrete slab with corrugated metal sides that went about halfway up to a metal roof with netting the rest of the way."
Mormillo, who still volunteers as a media consultant, speaker, and sometime master of ceremonies for museum events, recalls, "You went in through a B-29 nose section and there was Ed sitting behind the seat. If you went to Ed's house, which was just a few blocks away then, you would have seen pieces of airplanes in his back yard and in his garage, full from floor to ceiling with all sorts of rubbish. Literally, at that time the P-47, the P-51A, the P-40, and the P-59 were all disassembled in the back yard."
Maloney continued to scrounge and scramble for rare aircraft wherever in the world he could find them. (After a five-year search, he tracked down in Guatemala a Boeing P-26A Peashooter, the first pursuit monoplane flown by the U.S. Army Air Corps.) In 1963 he moved the museum to nearby Ontario International Airport, and in 1970 moved the airplanes to Buena Park, California, near Disneyland, to complement a collection of Hollywood automobiles. To match the jazzy "Cars of the Stars," Maloney coined the name "Planes of Fame." When in 1973 the museum moved to its present location at Chino, the name stuck. In 1995, a second facility opened, in Valle, Arizona, where 35 airplanes are on display.
Meet the Airplanes
A walk around the museum with Ed Maloney is a history lesson in airplanes, even for someone who thinks he knows something about aviation.
"On the other side of me, you see this big biplane," Maloney points out in the foreign-aircraft hangar. "That's a Russian An-2. The North Vietnamese used them in the war to bring supplies down to the south. Had an F-101 pilot in here not long ago, and he said he was looking down one day and saw one of these land on the highway. They opened the door and kicked out all the guns and ammunition and just took off again and headed back for Hanoi. We acquired this one [from a civilian government operation in Hungary] and had it dismantled and shipped over. We flew it for a number of years. It's amazing that they're still being used in some of the communist countries as transports, dusters, sprayers …."