The Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field is seen on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field is seen on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Flying Heritage Museum ‘returning soon’ under new owner

Bought by a Walmart heir, the vintage aircraft and military museum offered a cryptic tease this week.

EVERETT — The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor museum hadn’t tweeted since August when it announced that Walmart heir Steuart Walton had bought the collection.

Then on Monday, the museum’s Twitter account sprang to life and tweeted that Flying Heritage would be “returning soon.”

“That tweet was to let people know, ‘Hey, we’re still here,’” Adrian Hunt the museum’s executive director said Tuesday.

“We hope to be open by summer,” he said.

Hunt opened the door of the museum at Paine Field to a reporter Tuesday afternoon.

Inside, a worker was stocking the shelves of the gift store, empty since March 2020, with books, backpacks and models.

It will take time, Hunt said, to reopen the museum.

“We’ve been closed for three years,” he reiterated.

There’s no cash register for purchases or ticket sales. A call for volunteers hasn’t yet been issued, thus no target date for reopening, he explained.

One thing is for certain, he said, the museum will continue to operate under the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor banner.

“Aircraft, armored vehicles, artifacts, and new exhibits are ready to open and ready to inspire!” Monday’s tweet promised.

A similar message appears on the museum’s Facebook page and website with the added note: “Stay tuned for more information on opening.”

The museum is a showcase for the late Paul Allen’s collection of World War II and Cold War aircraft, vintage tanks, military vehicles and combat armor.

Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder, launched the museum in 2004, opening his vintage aircraft collection to the public at an Arlington airfield location. In 2008, it moved to Paine Field in Everett, where it’s housed in three hangars at 3407 109th St. SW.

In March 2020, the Flying Heritage museum was shuttered over pandemic concerns.

Closed for three years, the questions multiplied.

Would the museum ever open again? Would the collection be parted out or sold? Would it be bought and then carted away?

The ownership mystery was solved last August when Walton purchased the museum lock, stock and barrel and formed the Wartime History Museum, a nonprofit group to oversee the collection.

At the time, Walton promised to reopen Flying Heritage “at its current location, within the next year.”

That was more than six months ago.

On Facebook, hundreds of fans weighed in this week on the cryptic announcement “returning soon.”

“Thank you, but please define ‘soon,’” Mark Terry replied on Facebook.

Many praised Walton for keeping the collection here at Paine Field.

“Mr Walton … thank you for your brave decision to buy and keep this collection, but foremost thank you for listening to the sage advice to keep it together AND in its home in the Pacific Northwest where all the facilities, the staff, the skills are there, as well as a population big enough to support it are,” Chris Langley posted on Facebook.

Based in Arkansas, Walton is the co-founder of Game Composites, a company that builds small composite aircraft. In a statement last year, Walton is described as a pilot committed to “the preservation and restoration of historic aircraft. He serves on the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum board. He’s also an attorney.

Walton bought the museum last year from Seattle-based Vulcan Inc., the Allen family’s holding company. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Being able to visit the museum once again won’t come too soon for Julie Spencer Howard. On Facebook, she wrote that her son was “crushed when the museum closed.”

“Can’t wait!” she wrote. “My son and I used to just stop by for about 30 minutes to an hour each week…This is HUGE for us.”

A former museum volunteer said he was itching to be back in the saddle.

“Great news! I’ve still got my docent vest, waiting to come out of mothballs!” Rick Slater wrote on Facebook.

The museum’s exhibits focused on historic war machines from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. Many of them were operational, a rarity among vintage aircraft.

Visitors to the museum could often glimpse on-site mechanics breaking out the oil can or putting the finishing touches on a newly acquired warbird.

And the restoration process was exacting. Aircraft and vehicles were restored to original flying or driving condition and featured authentic paint schemes and mechanics.

Aviation fans and a lot of kids hope Walton will revive the museum tradition of taking those vintage planes up. When he bought the collection August, Walton hinted he will.

His plan to preserve and restore wartime artifacts, includes making them “available through live exhibitions, museum properties and public spaces, including the skies above,” the Wartime History Museum wrote.

“Airplanes need to fly to remain ‘healthy,’ and they regularly flew their aircraft until the museum closed. Children especially enjoyed watching these wonderful rare aircraft up flying!” John Rotunda, a local general aviation pilot, told The Daily Herald in an email. Rotunda and his wife, Vivian, also a pilot, have a hangar at Paine Field. “They have many flying examples of rare warbirds that they flew during many of their public events,” John Rotunda said.

The Flying Heritage museum, Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center, Boeing Factory Tour and other Paine Field attractions have been huge draws.

Before the pandemic, Snohomish County’s “biggest tourist location was Paine Field and the people coming from all over the world to view the aircraft there,” County Executive Dave Somers has said.

“We’re hoping (Flying Heritage) opens soon,” A Boungjaktha, who oversees the county’s economic development activities, said Tuesday.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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