Ed Maloney’s Mission

The man behind, beside, and all over, the Planes of Fame Air Museum.

Among the first to see the historical value of aircraft, Ed Maloney opened a museum in 1957 and has been adding airplanes ever since, like the Hawker Hurricane. What makes the Planes of Fame Air Museum especially thrilling to airplane fans is aircraft that fly. (David Johnston)
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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 …."

We move on to a Korean-era fighter. "And this Yak-18 is called ‘Bed Check Charlie.' They'd throw out hand grenades or whatever bottles they had to make noise to keep our troops awake at night. The only Navy ace in the Korean War shot down five of these flying a Corsair F4U-5NL. There's still a few flying in Europe, but they're kind of rare."
We stop at a little biplane, a Hanriot Scout.

"Here's the first World War I aircraft we acquired," he says. "It belonged to the third-ranking French ace, Charles Nungesser. When the war was over, he brought this and several other airplanes over to do a little barnstorming. In 1925, he did a motion picture at Roosevelt Field called The Sky Raider. The pilot of the photography airplane, I found out years later, was Igor Sikorsky."

On completion of the movie, Maloney tells me, the producers of The Sky Raider hired Nungesser to perform aerial stunts to promote the film across the country. At the end of the tour, he stored the airplane at the Santa Monica airport, which was then Clover Field, and returned to France to prepare for an attempt to fly across the Atlantic. He disappeared during the flight.

"When I was just a kid in grade school, I remember seeing the Hanriot Scout," says Maloney. "They'd do movies like Men With Wings, Tailspin Tommy, and Hell's Angels, and the theater would rent this plane and put it in the foyer. I got to thinking back in the early '50s and I said, Gee, I remember that airplane. That's got to be around here someplace. It had a skull and crossbones on the side."

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