EVERETT — Closed for more than two years, the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field — the late Paul Allen’s ode to vintage warbirds — will reopen with a new affluent owner.
Walmart heir Steuart Walton has bought the museum’s aircraft, artifacts and assets. The collection will be overseen by the Wartime History Museum, a nonprofit group Walton founded earlier this year, according to a news release.
“Wartime History Museum plans to reopen Flying Heritage and Combat Armor to the public, at its current location, within the next year and will share additional details when plans are finalized,” the release said.
The Friends of Flying Heritage, a nonprofit group that operates the museum, confirmed the long-rumored purchase Thursday.
Launched in 2004 by Allen, the late Microsoft cofounder, the Flying Heritage museum was a showcase for his private collection of World War II and Cold War aircraft, vintage tanks, motorcycles, military vehicles, combat armor and peculiarities of war.
In a statement, Walton said: “This incredible collection reminds us of the significance vintage aircraft and other historic vehicles have had on our nation and globe. On behalf of my fellow Wartime History Museum board members, we hope to share these important artifacts for generations to come and unearth inspiring stories to help fuel innovation, understanding, and exploration.”
The popular museum closed in March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, it was widely reported that the collection had been sold to the Walmart heir. The Dutch Aviation Society was among the first media outlets to report the sale, fueling speculation that the collection could move to Arkansas. An aviator and grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, the collection’s new owner is based in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Steuart Walton, an attorney, is the co-founder of Game Composites, which builds small composite aircraft. As an experienced pilot and “investor in the preservation and restoration of historic aircraft,” Walton serves on the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum board, according to the press release. He also serves on the board of directors of Walmart, Flipkart and the Walmart-affiliated Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Flying Heritage’s executive director Adrian Hunt said, “It has been my honor and privilege to help develop and care for this amazing collection, share it with the public, and preserve and celebrate the important military history and human stories of which we are caretakers.”
“I am thrilled that the museum’s mission and impact will continue under the leadership of Steuart and the Wartime History Museum,” said Hunt, who has led the museum since 2007. “I look forward to the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum continuing to educate and inspire the community through compelling artifacts and engaging exhibits that honor those who served their country.”
The museum and other properties are owned by Seattle-based Vulcan Inc., the Allen family holding company. In recent weeks, Vulcan has announced the sale of several of Allen’s properties including real estate holdings in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City and Hawaii.
Allen, 65, died in October 2018 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He left behind a vast estate that includes property, artwork and venture capital investments, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers. In 2018, Forbes estimated his net worth at more than $20 billion.
Allen wasn’t married and had no children. His sister Jody Allen was named executor and trustee of his estate.
Paul Allen began collecting planes and other military artifacts in the 1990s.
In 2004, he opened the vintage aircraft collection to the public at an Arlington airfield location. Four years later, it moved to Paine Field in Everett, where it’s housed in three hangars at 3407 109th Street SW.
Exhibits focus on historic war machines from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. Many are operational. Visitors could often glimpse on-site mechanics working on restoration projects.
A somber reminder of the dawn of the atomic age — replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man, the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945 — are among the exhibits.
Other displays showcased peculiar wartime technologies, such as World War II “pigeon parachutes” used to deploy carrier pigeons behind enemy lines and British-made exploding “rat dummies” engineered to ignite when tossed into a fire or furnace.
Many of its military artifacts were restored to original flying or driving condition and feature authentic paint schemes and mechanical systems.
“This is wonderful news that a fellow nonprofit, founded by another visionary and conscientious leader, will continue FHCAM’s mission and Paul’s vision,” said Steve Hinton, Flying Heritage’s former principal test pilot.
“Paul curated an amazing collection of significant aircraft and machines that tell strong and important stories that need to be remembered and celebrated,” said Hinton, president of the Planes of Fame Air Museum.
Following Allen’s death in 2018, the museum continued to operate. In March 2020, however, the museum board closed the institution to the public, citing pandemic concerns.
“Although artifact care and restoration has continued, the museum has remained closed, and its assets are now being sold consistent with Allen’s wishes,” the release said. “Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, and all proceeds will be earmarked for philanthropy.”
Separately, the museum recently sold its operational, fully restored MiG-29 to billionaire Jared Isaacman. Allen acquired the two-seat Soviet-era fighter jet in 2005.
Walton established the Wartime History Museum as a nonprofit earlier this year. Its mission, the release said, is to “preserve and restore wartime historical artifacts and pioneer ways to make them available through live exhibitions, museum properties and public spaces, including the skies above.”