Visiting the Lyon Air Museum

While visiting Los Angeles in late August, in addition to my trip to the USS Iowa Battleship Museum, I also went to the Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana. The location turned out to be very convenient since I flew into John Wayne Airport in Orange County and was staying close by. I originally planned to fly into LAX, but that would’ve resulted in me driving across LA just to get to my hotel. Yeah…dodged that bullet. Anyway, the Lyon Air Museum is a modestly-sized aviation museum that you may not even know is there since it’s at a regional airport. Still, it’s very interesting to visit if you have an hour or two to burn.

Note that I’m not a huge aircraft enthusiast, and thus, am pretty uninformed when it comes to aviation topics, so I can’t speak very intelligently about these planes. I mean, they look cool and they fly around in the air, but apart from that, I only have a basic understanding of flight and the types of aircraft. In other words, don’t expect any terribly insightful commentary. As many have probably figured out, I’m much more informed when it comes to ships. Still, I enjoy a good military history museum and this is no exception.

The Lyon Air Museum

First of all, the museum has no connection (as far as I know) to the city of Lyon, France. It’s named after retired U.S. Air Force Major General William Lyon. The museum is located on the west side of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. It shares facilities with Martin Aviation, an aircraft repair company founded in 1923. The museum is situated inside a hangar that is packed with various aircraft, cars, and motorcycles. Given its location, you actually need to drive around to the west side of John Wayne Airport since the museum can’t be accessed directly from the airport terminal.

Portrait of Maj. Gen. William Lyon, the museum’s founder.

It’s worth noting that many (or all) of the aircraft in the museum are likely still operational because there are collection pans beneath the engines that are catching fluids seeping out of the plane. As they say, “If there are no fluids leaking out of your aircraft, then there are none in it.”

Also, note that the Lyon Air Museum isn’t sponsoring this blog post and all photos belong to the author. For those who are interested in the museum, you can check out their website at: https://lyonairmuseum.org/. Unless otherwise noted, all the information about the exhibits in this post comes from the website or the museum placards.

With that said let’s get on to the exhibits.

The Aircraft

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

“Fuddy Duddy”

According to the museum website, “Fuddy Duddy” was used as a VIP transport in the Pacific near the end of WWII. At one point, it transported General Dwight D. Eisenhower. After the war, it was used in firefighting and made several appearances in Hollywood films, such as the 1962 Steve McQueen movie, The War Lover and the 1970 war epic, Tora Tora Tora.

Built under license by Douglas Aircraft, this B-17G has Army Air Corps serial number 44-83563 (presumably different from the Air Force serial # seen above “Fuddy Duddy”) and was delivered on 7 April 1945. It’s powered by four 1,200 hp Wright Cyclone R-1820, 9-cylinder radial piston engines driving 11-foot 7-inch diameter Hamilton Standard propellers. Its normal bomb load would be 8,000 pounds, but with external racks, it could carry up to 17,600 pounds of bombs. Its maximum speed is 300 mph at 30,000 ft. and has a service ceiling of 35,600 ft. It’s decked out in colors of the 447th Bomb Group.

For defensive armament, the plane has four twin 0.50 cal machine gun mounts (chin, aft of the cockpit, under the center fuselage, and in the tail. Single-gun mounts are in the side of the nose, in the radio operator’s hatch, and at two waist positions.1

The design of the B-17 came about in 1934 when the U.S. Army issues specifications for a long-range, high-altitude daylight bomber. The prototype first flew in 1935, designated Model 299, and was powered by four 750 hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines. Although the prototype was lost in a crash, the project went ahead with the plane being designated as B-17. The B-17Bs had modified noses and enlarged rudders. They were delivered in March 1940. The B-17Cs had the upgraded Wright 1,200 hp engines and a variety of internal changes. 20 B-17Cs saw service with the Royal Air Force in 1941, but they were not very successful in high-altitude daylight raids and also suffered mechanical issues. The B-17 design underwent further modifications to remain competitive with more modern bombers in 1941. The B-17E received more machine gun mounts to improve the plane’s defensive armament. 512 of the Es were produced and saw extensive service over Europe. By April 1942, the F variant went into production with more than 3400 being built. 61 were configured for long-range reconnaissance duty and were designated as the F-9. 19 were delivered to the RAF Coastal Command which designated them as the Fortress II. The last 86 B-17Fs featured the twin 0.50 cal Bendix chin turret for greater frontal defense against attacking fighters. The chin turret became standard with the introduction of the B-17G which began entering service in the fall of 1943. Some 8,680 of the G variant were produced by the end of the war in Europe. 85 served with the RAF Coastal Command as the Fortress III. During WWII, B-17s flew 294,875 sorties over Europe and dropped some 640,000 tons of ordnance at the cost of 4,483 lost and another 861 operational losses.2

This is probably the largest aircraft in the collection and definitely an impressive exhibit.

North American B-25J Mitchell

“Guardian of Freedom”

This B-25J, Army Air Corps serial number 44-29465, spent WWII flying patrol missions over Alaska and the Aleutian islands before eventually being used as a training aircraft. It’s powered by two 1,700 hp, Wright Cyclone R-2600 14-cylinder radial piston engines, and can carry around 4,000 pounds of bombs. Its service ceiling is 24,200 feet and has a maximum speed of 275 mph at 15,000 ft. with a cruising speed of 230 mph.

The B-25 was intended to fulfill the role of a medium bomber in the U.S. Army’s inventory to bridge the gap between light and heavy bombers. The North American NA-40 would eventually become the B-25. Named after the controversially far-sighted airpower advocate, U.S. Army officer William “Billy” Mitchell, the B-25 officially entered service in 1941 with the USAAF and is probably most famous as the bomber of the Doolittle Raid in April 1942 where LTC James Doolittle flew these Army bombers off the USS Hornet to strike Tokyo.3

The early models were superseded by the C/D models of which 3909 were built (Cs were built at the North American Inglewood plant, and Ds were built at their Dallas plant). The RAF would operate 533 under the name Mitchell II. Ultimately, the RAF would acquire over 800 B-25s under Lend-Lease. The B-25s went into Nos. 98 and 180 squadrons in September 1942. After August 1943, they were part of the Second Tactical Air Force and carried out pre-D-Day strikes in Northern France and on V-1 “doodlebug” sites in the Pas de Calais. The Soviet Union also received 870 of the C/D model.4

The next variant was derived from modified C models and mounted a U.S. Army 75mm field gun in the nose with 21x 15 lb. shells for attacking ground targets and ships. 405 airframes of the B-25G model were produced. The next variant, the B-25H, carried a lighter 75mm gun, four 0.50 cal machine guns in the nose, four more in blisters beneath the cockpit, two in a dorsal turret and the tail, and two on the waist. In addition to its bomb load, up to 8 rockets could be mounted under the wings. The H variant saw extensive action in the Pacific Theater. The J variant was the most numerous, with more than 4,300 built. The main difference between the J and the earlier H model was that the J variant did not have the 75mm gun in the nose. (As seen above, this aircraft only has three machine guns in the nose and lacks the 75mm gun and the four blistered guns beneath the cockpit.) The J model saw service in the Pacific, the Mediterranean, and SE Asia. In the RAF, it was known as the Mitchell III.5

In January 1943, the U.S. Navy also ordered 706 B-25s (C, D, H, and J models) for use with the U.S. Marine Corps and designated them PBJs. These were to be used to support amphibious landings during the island hopping campaigns. Apart from the U.S. military, Britain, and the Soviet Union, B-25s also saw service with China, Australia, Canada, France, and the Netherlands. The last B-25 in U.S. service was a VIP transport which was retired on 21 May 1960. Post-war, these aircraft continued service in smaller air forces and as trainers and light transports. Their stability also made them popular as camera ships in the film industry.6

Douglas A-26B Invader

“Feeding Frenzy”

Fighting in more wars than any other aircraft of the era, the Douglas A-26 Invader saw service with the Americans in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. With other air forces, it saw continued service in Indochina, Algeria, Nigeria, Cuba, the Congo, and some dozen other conflicts.

In 1940, the USAAF issued a requirement for an attack aircraft based on three different prototypes (attack, night fighter, and bomber). Douglas developed the XA-26 which first flew on 10 July 1942. This was accepted into service and the attack variant became the A-26B and entered combat in Europe with the U.S. Ninth Air Force in November 1944. It also saw action in the Pacific at the same time. Up to 1,355 of this version were built. Armed with six 0.50 cal machine guns in the nose, as well as rockets, and bombs, the plane was ideal for strafing ground targets. It was also used for the covert insertion of Allied spies into enemy territory. The A-26C entered service in 1945 and differed in that its nose was changed to a glazed canopy and the nose armament was reduced from six to two machine guns. Room for a bomb aimer was also included, but only 1,091 of these were produced.7 The museum website notes that the aircraft in their collection is a B variant, yet it seems to have a glazed nose canopy with a bombsight and lacks the 6 machine guns in the nose.

Post-war, some of these aircraft served as target tugs for the U.S. Navy and were designated as JD-1 (later UB-26J). Following the formation of the USAF, in 1948, the A-26 Invader’s designation was changed to B-26 (not to be confused with the earlier Martin B-26 Marauder which was taken out of service in 1948). The Invader continued to see service into the 1950s and participated in the first and last combat missions in Korea. More than 450 B-26Bs and Cs were used as night intruders during that conflict. The French also used the aircraft in Indochina against the Viet-Minh. Their service in the region continued with the American involvement and the Invader was deployed to South Vietnam in 1962. Although painted in Vietnamese markings, the aircraft had U.S. aircrews aboard. Following an aircraft disintegration resulting from high wing stresses, the Invader was withdrawn from SE Asia. However, the Air Force contracted On Mark Engineering to convert low-hour airframes into counter-insurgency aircraft. These heavily armed variants were designated as the B-26K and were used again in Vietnam in ground attack and interdiction roles until 1970. In 1966, in order to get the B-26Ks based in Thailand, the designation had to be strangely changed again to A-26A so as to be acceptable to the Thai government (they didn’t want “bombers” based in their country at the time, but attack aircraft were a different story…semantics). The Invader continued to see front-line service with some air forces into the late-1970s. A number of surplus aircraft found their use in the civilian market as executive transports, firebombers, and crop dusters.8

“Feeding Frenzy” had Army Air Corps serial number 44-34538. It’s powered by two 2,000 Horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800, “Double Wasp” 18-cylinder radial piston engines. It has a maximum speed of 355 mph and a cruising speed of 250 mph. Its service ceiling is 22,100 ft. In addition to 14 externally-mounted rockets, it can also carry 4,000 lbs. of bombs internally and 2,000 lbs. externally. The mounted rockets on this aircraft are a mixture of 6.5″ HE HVAR AT and 5″ HE HVAR GP. (HE stands for High Explosive. HVAR stands for High-Velocity Aircraft Rocket. AT stands for Anti-Tank and GP stands for General Purpose.)

“Feeding Frenzy” entered service in 1945 near the end of WWII. It later served in Indochina during the 1950s with the French, and then returned to the U.S. to be operated by Hughes Tool Company. Howard Hughes himself reportedly flew this very aircraft. “Feeding Frenzy” sports its Korean War markings.

Cessna O-1E Birddog

The Birddog was introduced in 1950 as a reconnaissance aircraft for the U.S. Army by Cessna Aircraft. It’s powered by one Continental O-470-11 flat six-piston engine, producing 213 hp. It has a maximum speed of 130 mph and a service ceiling of 20,300 ft. Some 3,398 airframes were built between 1950 and 1964. Originally designated the L-19, it was redesignated the O-1 in 1962. These aircraft saw extensive service in both Korea and Vietnam. It was used by the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and 19 other foreign countries.

This particular O-1E is painted in markings of the U.S. Army’s 183rd Seahorses for service in Vietnam. Many of the Birddogs were used for visual and photo reconnaissance, artillery spotting, Forward Air Control, and search-and-rescue missions during that war.

Their armament often consisted of hand grenades, an automatic rifle, and wing-mounted white phosphorus (WP AKA “Willie Pete”) smoke rockets for marking targets (as seen with this aircraft). Some crews further augmented the armament with wing or cabin-mounted M60 machine guns.

Douglas C-47B Skytrain/Dakota

“Willa Dean”

This aircraft (Army Air Corps Serial Number 44-76791) started out in U.S. service before being transferred to the French in May 1945 where it continued to fly mostly unmodified. In 1967, it was again transferred to the Israelis where it remained unmodified before being sold to the civilian market. Eventually, it became a part of the museum’s collection. It’s one of the most completely original C-47s in operation. It’s painted with “invasion stripes” and has the colors of the 440th Troop Carrier Group’s 97th Troop Carrier Squadron.

The C-47 is powered by two 1,200-horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1830 “Twin Wasp” 14-cylinder radial engines. It has a maximum speed of 224 mph and a cruising speed of 160 mph. Its service ceiling is 24,600 ft.

Douglas DC-3

Note that the DC-3 and the above C-47 are the same types of aircraft, it’s just that the DC-3 is the civilian model.

“Flagship Orange County” began as a C-47A with the U.S. Army Air Force’s 440th Troop Carrier Group. This aircraft flew from Exeter Field in England, and on D-Day (6 June 1944), dropped 101st Airborne paratroopers over Drop Zone DELTA in Normandy at 1:40AM.

At some point after the war, it was converted to a civilian airliner and entered service with American Airlines which is the livery it’s currently displayed in. According to C.R. Smith of American Airlines, the DC-3 was the first aircraft that made air travel truly profitable for the company without having to rely on government subsidies, such as hauling U.S. mail. By 1939, more than 90% of passengers were flying on DC-2s and DC-3s.

North American AT-6/SNJ-6 Texan

An advanced pilot trainer, the T-6 Texan was also known as the AT-6 (USAAF), SNJ-6 (USN), and Harvard (British Commonwealth). The T-6 was developed from the North American NA-16 prototype to meet the need for a basic combat trainer. The wartime industrial expansion in the U.S. coincided with an increased demand for training aircraft. By 1940, combat pilots earning their wings were only required to have 200 flight hours over a shortened 7-month training period. 75 of those hours were logged in an AT-6.

The Texan continued to see use after WWII in the Korean War as a trainer and as a forward air control (FAC) aircraft under the designation T-6 Mosquito. During the Vietnam War, they continued service as FAC aircraft and a number of T-6Gs were armed and flown against Viet Cong targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. In addition, Brazil, China, and Venezuela used them as trainers. A number of other nations also used the Texan as a counterinsurgency aircraft into the 1970s.

Over 15,000 T-6s were built during its production run. About 500 are still flying today and are popular in airshow demonstrations and as warbirds. Modified T-6s are often used as stand-ins for other period aircraft in films. For example, two T-6s were modified to look like Mitsubishi A6M Zeros in the 1970 war film, Tora! Tora! Tora! and the 1980 science fiction film, The Final Countdown.

The Texan is powered by one Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine producing 600 hp. It has a maximum speed of 208 mph at 5,000 ft. and a cruising speed of 145 mph. Its service ceiling is 24,200 ft.

Boeing-Stearman Model 75 Kaydet

The Stearman Model 75 was the primary trainer aircraft in the USAAF, USN, and RCAF during WWII. The first training version of the Model 75 was designated the PT-13 and ordered by the U.S. Army in 1935. It was followed by the P-17 in 1940, the P-18, and the P-27 which was built for Canada. All of these aircraft were similar except for different engines and minor changes. The P-27 was the same as the P-17 but also included cockpit enclosures, a heating system, night flying equipment, and a hood and instruments for blind flying.9

The P-13/N2S-2 is powered by a Lycoming R-680 engine generating 220 hp. Other versions had a Continental R-670 engine, except the P-18 which had a 225 hp Jacobs R-775 engine. It has a maximum speed of 124 mph, a cruising speed of 106 mph at sea level, and a service ceiling of 11,200 ft.10

Motorcycles

  1. 1921 Harley Davidson motorcycle with sidecar. (Formerly owned by Steve McQueen.)
  2. 1931 Panther motorcycle. (Also formerly owned by Steve McQueen.)
  3. Russian M-72 motorcycle. (A licensed copy of the BMW R71.)
  4. 1944 BMW R75 motorcycle with sidecar.
  5. Zundapp. (Unknown model, possibly a KS600. Painted as part of the German Afrikakorps.)
  6. Same as above.
  7. 1943 Japanese Type 97 Rikuo motorcycle with sidecar. Originally built under the name of Harley Davidson in the mid-1930s, the name was changed to Rikuo, meaning “Road King” at the start of the war, and designated as the Type 97 in military service.
  8. Same as above.
  9. Kleines Kettenkraftrad “Kettenkrad” SdKfz. 2. More specifically a 1943 German NSU Kettenkrad HK 101 tracked motorcycle. (Much like the one used in the film Saving Private Ryan to bait the German tanks into the town near the end.)
  10. Same as above, but a photo of the trailer it pulls.
  11. 1943 BMW R75 motorcycle with sidecar. One of the few “touchable” exhibits in the museum.

Cars

  1. 1943 Ford GPW Military Jeep.
  2. Same as above, radio equipment in the back.
  3. 1941 Dodge WC-6 (G505) 1/2 ton Command & Reconnaissance truck.
  4. 1942 Ford GPW Military Jeep.
  5. An aircraft tractor. (Didn’t catch the model.)
  6. 1939 German VID Tempo Geladewagen model G1200.
  7. Shelby Cobra 427 SC (CSX4155).
  8. Same as above.
  9. 1940 Ford Model 40 V-8 Station Wagon.
  10. 1930 Ford Model A Roadster/Pickup.
  11. 1940s/50s style belly tanker “Old Crow”. This and the one in photo #24 were racing cars constructed from old aircraft external fuel tanks. Basically, four wheels, an engine, and a seat!
  12. A recreation of Bill Burke’s #23 belly tank streamliner. This car was built in 1946 and set a speed record of 131.96 mph.
  13. Unknown. (Didn’t catch the sign.)

1940s DIVCO VM Helms Bakery Truck

Helms was an industrial baking company that operated in southern California from 1931 to 1969. While their baked goods were never sold in stores, their method of distribution involved a fleet of yellow and blue coaches like the one pictured. The company’s motto was “daily to your door.” The truck would drive around their assigned neighborhoods and stop at houses or be flagged down by customers (like an ice cream truck…I guess). The interior of the truck would carry dozens of loaves of bread and the back wooden drawers were loaded with donuts, pastries, and cookies. In addition to sponsoring the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, Helms was also contracted to provide the “first bread on the Moon” for the Apollo 11 lunar mission in 1969. Helms eventually went out of business in 1969 due to the cost of driving their fleet of trucks hundreds of miles each week and the rise of supermarkets that stocked less expensive products from competing bakeries and could deliver more frequently.

I found this truck to be oddly interesting. It just seems very quaint and straight out of a 50s sitcom. The idealized dream of American suburbia where the milkman delivers bottles to your front door. Similarly, this truck delivers bread to your neighborhood. Of course, as mentioned, the logistics of operating such a service combined with advances in technology and consumer practices made such services redundant. You might say that the increasing automation and labor costs mean that you don’t need a person to shake the salt and a person to shake the pepper onto your food. Do it yourself or have something else do it for you.

1939 Mercedes-Benz Model G4 Offener Touring Wagon

Hitler’s car…Yes, really.

As I’ve written before on this blog, I don’t harbor any sympathy for Naziism, Hitler, or fascist regimes. That said, I am a proponent of preserving history, even the history which we may find disagreeable or upsetting. Even then, it’s not like this is Hitler’s body. I mean, it’s a freaking car, people! Even the little swastika flags are covered up (although they missed the stamp on the license plate.) It’s not like the car committed the Holocaust or anything.

The other standout exhibit in this museum carries the unique characteristic of it once belonging to a fascist Nazi dictator by the name of Adolf Hitler. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He generally made life pretty miserable for people in Europe around the time of WWII.

Anywhoo, presumably Hitler had multiple conveyances and this is only one of them. According to the museum placard, this G4 Offener Tourenwagen (open touring wagon) was one of 57 built by Daimler-Benz at their Stuttgart factory for the German Army from 1934 – 1939. It was built in June 1939 and delivered to Hitler in August. Shortly after the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Hitler rode in this car to observe the front. Hitler’s personal chauffeur was Erick Kempka. Following the invasion of France, Hitler is believed to have ridden this vehicle into Paris on 30 June 1940 (the only time he visited France during the war). The car eventually returned to Berlin and was then moved to Hitler’s retreat, Obersalzburg, where it stayed until captured by the French at the end of the war.

Among the various features of the car are that the body is constructed out of heavy steel and is so large it requires an expansion joint between the dashboard and the engine firewall. All of the windows are made of bullet-resistant glass and there are hand-holds above the rearview mirror and on the windshield side pillar for Hitler to hold on to. Note that the front passenger seat tilts up which allowed Hitler to stand up to survey the crowds (unlike other dignitaries who rode in the back of their vehicles, Hitler preferred to ride in the front). Special kick panels on the passenger side and in the rear held automatic pistols with two ammo clips so Hitler and his SS bodyguards could access them. The headlights, spotlights, and other reflective devices are encased in blackout covers. A special blue light is mounted forward of the radiator for night driving which was difficult for enemy pilots to see.

Note that this car is not to be confused with the car in that one scene from the 2001 comedy, Rat Race. In the film, it’s actually a 1935 Lincoln K modified to look like a Mercedes Benz. Still, it’s a funny scene.

Miscellaneous Artifacts

The museum also contains a number of other antique cars and small model aircraft, however, I didn’t take pictures of them. What is seen in this post are most of the main exhibits. There are also several other miscellaneous artifacts. Here are just a few of them.

A Japanese “good luck” flag (寄せ書き日の丸, yosegaki hinomaru) brought back from New Guinea by 1st Sgt. Charles Pearlstein during WWII.

On the right side is the patriotic song “Umi Yukaba” sung by many kamikaze pilots prior to takeoff. The song is derived from a poem by Otomo no Yakamochi in the Man’yoshu, an anthology written in the 8th century. It’s written on the flag from top to bottom, right to left. The lyrics are:

海行かば水漬く屍                   (At sea be my body water-soaked,)
Umi yukaba mizuku kabane 

山行かば草生す屍                   (On land be it with grass overgrown.) 
Yama yukaba kusa musu kabane 

大君の辺にこそ死なめ               (Let me die by the side of my Sovereign!)
Ookimi no he ni koso shiname 

かえりみはせじ                    (Never will I look back.)
Kaerimi wa seji 

The lower right corner is likely the name of the inscriber. The bottom is writing on the other side that has bled through (thus it’s a mirror image and appears upside-down and backward). It translates to: “Bu-un Cho Kyu” (武運長久) which, roughly translated, means “long-lasting military fortunes.”

A Japanese cold weather flight suit.

According to the museum sign, it’s lined with rabbit fur and was acquired by USAAF Major Alexander R. Trench during WWII. It was donated to the museum by Trench’s son, Alexander L.

A 1936 Hawthorne ZEP Bicycle. According to the sign, it was donated by the family of Dirk Adams.

Overall, the Lyon Air Museum has a nice collection of operational aircraft and is well worth checking out if you’re an aviation enthusiast. While certainly not the biggest aviation museum, its small and quaint feel is more than made up for by the impressive number of exhibits they have packed inside that hangar.

Notes

1. Francis Crosby, The Complete Guide to Fighters and Bombers of the World (London, UK: Hermes House, 2006), 307.

2. Crosby, 306 – 307.

3. Crosby, 386.

4. Crosby, 386.

5. Crosby, 386 – 387.

6. Crosby, 387.

7. Crosby, 336.

8. Crosby, 337.

9. Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II (Avenel, NJ: Crescent Books, 1995), 211.

10. Jane’s, 212.

Bibliography

Crosby, Francis. The Complete Guide to Fighters and Bombers of the World. London, UK: Hermes House, 2006.

Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II. Avenel, NJ: Crescent Books, 1995.

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