"Found a biplane P-6E Hawk advertised. I would liked to have bought it but didn't have the money," he says. "Of course, the Air Force Museum in Dayton had some wealthy friends, and they purchased it. That's a rare one.
"You don't get to collect everything you'd like to get. We can't complain. We have a pretty good collection. Visitors come from all over the world to see the aircraft. We're a little off the beaten path here, but we like it in a way because we can still fly here."
All in the Family
The organizational chart for the museum looks a little like an abbreviated Maloney family tree. "It didn't start out to be a family operation," Maloney says. "I founded it and had two sons. I said, ‘Well, if you don't want to fly, you don't have to fly.' They came out and started washing airplanes and sweeping the floors just like anybody else, and they ended up staying in the business."
Jim Maloney, the older son, started hanging around the museum when he was seven. He brought along his best friend in the second grade, Steve Hinton. "What did I do when I was seven? I picked up Coke bottles and made a mess," Hinton recalls. But, with the younger son, John, the boys grew up around the airplanes. They washed and painted them and picked up mechanical experience. Eventually, they learned to fly, first the Stinson L-5, then the North American T-6 and the P-51. They flew warbirds for the television series "Baa Baa Blacksheep" in the early 1970s and, as their reputations as performers grew, became known among the aviation cognoscenti as "the Chino kids." After a brief stint as an airline pilot, Hinton came back to Chino to found Fighter Rebuilders with Jim Maloney. In 1983, Maloney died when a Ryan PT-22 in which he was a passenger went into a spin during an aerobatic maneuver in Arizona.
Hinton's career as a movie pilot, holder of a world speed record, and championship racer (he now flies the Planes of Fame T-33 as the pace plane at the Reno air races every year) has made him famous in aviation circles. He is one of the world's most experienced pilots of vintage warbirds, having racked up hours in everything from a Sopwith Camel to a Northrop F-5B.
His company, Fighter Rebuilders, located at the museum, has restored aircraft for collectors such as Bob Pond, whose airworthy warbirds are displayed at the Palm Springs Air Museum in California, and Stephen Grey and his Fighter Collection at Duxford, England. With such clients, the company is able to maintain a full-time crew the museum could not otherwise afford.
Hinton, who joined the family formally by marrying Ed Maloney's daughter Karen, is now president of Planes of Fame; Karen works as director of development. Their 19-year-old son Steve Jr. appears to be following in his father's footsteps. He flies the T-6 and late last spring he checked out in the P-51.
The museum supports itself with private donations from corporations and individuals, movie and airshow work, admissions and gift shop sales, and annual dues from memberships. One of the lures of membership is the possibility of a winning ticket in drawings for rides in one of the rare warbirds.
But much of the vitality of the museum comes from its corps of volunteers, all of whom share Maloney's passion for historic aircraft. Volunteers do most of the restoration work. An eight-person team, for example, has spent every Saturday for 11 years working on the Bell P-59 Airacomet, the first U.S. jet fighter (see "Restoration," Aug./Sept. 2005). According to volunteer Bob Velker, who describes himself as a "recovering engineer," there are half a million rivets in the wings alone. "We've got about 40,000 man-hours in it right now," he says.