Air museum to open doors in Central Oregon

MADRAS, Ore. — The Airshow of the Cascades begins on Friday, and with it, the air museum in development at the Madras Airport for more than a year will open its doors to the public for the first time.

Based at the Tillamook Air Museum for several years, the collection of primarily World War II-era military planes owned by Jack Erickson began moving to Madras this spring, as a hangar constructed for their display was nearing completion. Anthony Ruiz with the Erickson Group said 23 planes have made the trip over the mountains, and all will be on display — some flying — this weekend.

Ruiz said that although the Tillamook museum isn’t going away anytime soon — Erickson operates the museum, and is currently displaying planes on loan from other collectors — the Madras facility is a significant improvement over the facility at the coast. The Tillamook museum is based in a massive wooden blimp hangar more than 1,000 feet long and nearly 200 feet tall, and Ruiz said it had a tendency to overshadow the planes inside.

“In some ways, the hangar kind of eats them up,” Ruiz said. “(In Madras) the planes are the star of the show, not the building.”

A handful of Erickson’s planes, including a B-17 bomber, were displayed at last year’s air show. This year’s incarnation will once again feature the B-17, but with an all-new paint job and a new name, “Madras Maiden,” to mark its move to Central Oregon. On Thursday, the Erickson Group will host an invitation-only unveiling of the bomber with people who helped bring it and the other planes to Madras.

Ruiz said the museum is in the early stages of planning a new paint job for its P-38 Lightning to honor Rex Barber, a Culver-born fighter pilot who was at the controls of a P-38 when he shot down a plane carrying the commander of the Japanese navy in early 1943.

Barber flew a number of different P-38s during the war, Ruiz said, and researchers with the museum have been reviewing old photographs to select the nose art that would best reflect Barber’s wartime experience.

Hours and days of operations for the new museum have not yet been determined, Ruiz said Thursday, but should be announced before the start of the air show.

Ruiz said that while he doesn’t know if Erickson is actively shopping for new planes to add to his collection, it is a definite possibility.

“I don’t think you can ever count Jack out of collecting planes. . Very few people on this earth have owned more planes, bought and sold, than Jack Erickson,” he said.

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