Who’s Who: John Sessions, Historic Flight Foundation

John Sessions loves planes, history, flying, technology, innovation, learning and sharing.

His Historic Flight Foundation encompass all of those loves. It opened March 5 at the Kilo-6 air museum on Paine Field’s west side.

Named for the former Kilo-6 taxiway where he built his first hangar last year, the facility features some of the world’s most famous aircraft from 1927 to 1957, an era Sessions believes was a time of tremendous innovative thinking, engineering and development in the realm of aviation.

“Those years may seem an arbitrary choice, but it’s the golden age of aviation. It’s also particularly meaningful that 1927 was the year young Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly the Atlantic Ocean and 1957 marked the first flight of the Boeing 707 jet airliner,” he said.

Historic advances in flying were made by people who dared to be creative and adventuresome, becoming world famous if they succeeded but often paying with their lives if they failed, he added.

“That’s how we made these leaps forward. Working with slide rules engineers designed the B-25 Mitchell, then pilots worked out the refinements in test flights,” he said. “It was an amazing era.”

The first of his three hangars will show off two de Havilland Beavers, one with floats, the other painted in search-and-rescue colors; a WACO UPF-7 biplane; Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXe; Grumman F8F Bearcat; Grumman F7F Tigercat; North American P-51B, and his B-25 Mitchell “Grumpy,” which he recently flew in from England where it had been restored to flying condition.

Joining the collection later will be a Douglas DC-3, a Beechcraft Staggerwing D-17 biplane and a Canadair T-33 Silverstar jet trainer and predecessor to the F-80 Shooting Star, America’s first jet fighter, used in the Korean conflict.

“This first hangar will also become our restoration center, so people will be able to watch us as we bring the plane back to airworthiness,” Sessions said. “Later, in a year or so, we will be opening an education center on the site. You can learn more about it on our Web site, historicflight.org. It’ll be a major learning site and display facility.”

Rather than being the avocation of one person, he said, he wants the air museum to develop to the point where it will have donors, a paying audience, volunteers, people who believe in his dream.

“I think the historical context can be invigorating to a lot of people. We need to get our certification as a restoration center for vintage aircraft and move ahead with work we’ve started with education institutions, the FAA, and training programs for airframe and powerplant mechanics,” he said, “teaching them how to bury rivets and sew aircraft fabrics. Right now there are no consensus standards for restoration work.”

Now that his Historic Flight Foundation has launched, Sessions is looking for a variety of help from people passionate about aviation.

People can help him fulfill the foundation’s vision — bringing a bygone era back to life and delivering hands-on education about the technology and innovation that fueled today’s aviation industry — through financial support, donating log books from 1927 to 1957, manuals, uniforms, tools, flying attire, equipment or aviation books.

“These could be of continuing benefit to historians and enthusiasts in Historic Flight’s library and collection of memorabilia and artifacts,” Sessions said.

He also needs enthusiastic help as tour guides, administrators and in other roles. Individuals already have approached him about permanent aircraft donations or even temporary exhibits. He’s also looking for people who want to sponsor a favorite aircraft for Historic Flight Foundation.

The fixed cost to support a classic aircraft exhibit often exceeds $50,000 a year, he said, and if a plane is flown, operating costs can exceed $3,000 an hour for Rolls Royce Merlin-powered planes such as the P-51 or a jet fighter. For each $5,000 donation, the donor’s name is added to the plane’s “Flight Crew” list.

March 5 was the museum’s soft launch.

“By May 15, Paine Field’s General Aviation Day celebration, we should be fully operational. Expanded hours are planned by summer,” Sessions said.

At present, hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, with admission at $12 for adults and discounted fees for youths and veterans.

General Aviation Day will begin with the Paine Field firefighters’ pancake breakfast with “heavy iron” flying during the midday air show, including Sessions’ planes. At 3:30 p.m. the museum will hold a free open house and barbecue.

Cessna 172 flight leads to King Air, P-51, B-25

Growing up in Spokane, Sessions enjoyed flying balsa wood gliders and engine-powered model aircraft.

But thoughts about some day learning to fly were “put on a shelf until I got my education out of the way,” he said.

Those education years stretched out as he studied at Loyola University in California, then at UCLA’s business school.

Afterward, he studied at the University of Edinburgh and Georgetown Law School before beginning what became a 20-year law practice in Seattle focused on international trade and corporate business, including aircraft financing.

In 1983, a friend introduced him to flying at Boeing Field. One orientation flight in a Cessna 172 was so exhilarating he returned a week later to begin lessons.

Once he began flying, it became a passion. After Cessnas he began flying bush planes, then a Beechcraft Baron, a King Air, a Citation CJ2 and an Alpha Jet fighter plane. Several thousand hours of flying later he felt lured to move to “fast stick and rudder” aircraft — the world of classic warbirds.

After surviving his share of such inconveniences as “a couple of engine failures, an engine fire and a broken tail-wheel,” his love for flying warbirds is stronger than ever.

Five years ago he began acquiring and restoring a variety of famous and rare aircraft, both warbirds and civilian planes, for his dream of a Historic Flight Foundation aviation museum.

More accomplished than most pilots, he’s earned ratings in a variety of planes, including his P-51s, an F7U Tigercat and a twin-engine B-25 named ‘Grumpy’ that he recently flew to Paine Field from England.

Now that his air museum is open, he’s planning to attract groups for meetings, inspire teens with aviation exhibits and restore a Lockheed T-33 jet while museum visitors watch the progress.

Paine Field an aviation rarity in America

The Future of Flight and Boeing Tour facility provides tours of the assembly plant for the 747, 767, 777 and 787 airliner programs and educates visitors about tomorrow’s airliner technology.

Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection of World War II military aircraft is one of the world’s rarest, featuring aircraft from the four major nations involved in World War II.

Limited tours can be made by appointment at Legacy Flyers’ restoration facility for replicas of the world’s first jet fighter, the Me-262.

Now the fifth aviation tour adventure at Paine Field, John Sessions’ Historic Flight at Kilo-6, showcases military and civilian aircraft from the golden aviation era of 1927-1957.

The Flying Heritage Collection and the Historic Flight Foundation will share fly-days for their famous planes periodically and participate in Paine Field’s General Aviation Day, May 15, and Vintage Aircraft Weekend, Sept. 4-6.

More information





www.stormbirds.com/project/index.html and http://historicflight.org

Historic Flight Foundation is at 10719 Bernie Webber Drive, Mukilteo, WA 98275, accessed from the Mukilteo Speedway on the west side of Paine Field. Visit http://historicflight.org, call 425-348-3200 or email airborne@historicflight.org.

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