A new home to air power

EVERETT — It could be that some of the planes in Paul Allen’s collection of World War II aircraft made it possible for him to be here to collect them.

Sixty-four years ago Friday, on June 6, 1944, Allen’s father landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, as part of the Allied forces to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

“Like the many soldiers who took part in that operation, he was greatly protected by the Allies’ ability to gain air superiority,” the Microsoft co-founder said Friday in opening ceremonies for the Flying Heritage Collection’s new museum at Paine Field.

The anniversary of D-Day was the perfect opportunity to open the museum in the hangar at 3407 109th St. SW after its move from Arlington, officials said. Opening on that day was purely intentional.

“It’s an appropriate time to remember those who gave their service and often their lives for our freedom,” said Adrian Hunt, executive director for the museum.

About 50 invited guests were on hand Friday for statements by Allen, political figures and officials before Allen cut the ribbon to declare the museum open.

“I think it’s incredible,” said Mark Twichell, 59, visiting family from Buffalo, N.Y. “I don’t think I’m going to skip anything. I think I’m going to look at everything here.”

Rich Cuff, 43, of Seattle was especially captivated by the German Messerschmitt Bf 109-E. In 1988, a man was walking on a beach in Calais, France, when he noticed a piece of metal sticking out of the sand. It was the tip of the plane’s tail. The entire plane was buried there, and apparently had been since the war. It was excavated and purchased by Allen about 10 years later.

“It’s outstanding; the stories are great,” Cuff said of the videos and information that goes along with the planes.

The stream of visitors in the first hour was steady.

The collection boasts 14 World War II-era fighters, one World War I-era biplane, the nose of a British bomber and two Nazi rockets. Some of the planes are extremely rare, according to museum officials.

A German Focke Wulf 190 D-13 fighter is believed to be the only plane of its type that survived the war.

Allen began collecting and restoring the planes about 10 years ago. He loves technology and invention, he told the crowd, noting that the period of 1935 to 1945 was one of great innovation.

Allen’s personal connection to D-Day further sharpened his interest.

“I think the continuity of history certainly was a factor for me,” Allen told the Herald. Last year, he visited Omaha Beach, he said.

“It’s just a really emotional experience to imagine one of your parents being a part of that bit of history.”

Three years ago, Allen began to show some of the planes to the public by appointment in a small warehouse near the Arlington Airport.

He chose Arlington, he said, because it has a grass field, enough space and was available quickly. When the collection grew and more space was needed, the Paine Field location was selected after a “very, very thorough” evaluation of sites, Allen said.

“It’s a working airport, with controlled airspace,” he said, adding, “not very congested airspace.”

Every other Saturday, beginning June 14, some of the planes will be taken out and flown.

The hangar’s history, built in 1949 as an Alaska Airlines repair facility, is a good fit with the planes, Allen added.

Allen has about 15 more planes that have yet to be restored, including some bombers, he said. A couple of the smaller ones, once finished, can fit into the current space. With the larger ones, “we’re thinking about that, and what we’d like to do with those planes.”

The Paine Field location dovetails well with the nearby Future of Flight museum and Boeing operations, officials noted.

“I think it’s great, it’s terrific, they’re a world-class collection with extraordinary restoration and it’s highly complementary to what we do,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Future of Flight.

“I think we make nice bookends,” he said. “We have a very comfortable relationship and have known those folks for a long time. We’ve encouraged them and they’ve encouraged us.”

The addition appealed to Michelle Robles, a Mountlake Terrace city councilwoman. Her father served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, she said.

“For those of use who grew up as Boeing kids, you’ve got what my dad did when he was in the war, what he built and what they’re going to build,” she said.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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