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The Yankee Air Museum

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The Yankee Air Museum is located in beautiful Ypsilanti, Michigan. Housed at the Willow Run Airport, the Yankee Air Museum offers plenty of activities, opportunities, and events to learn more about aviation, aerospace, and the role of southeast Michigan’s manufacturing in WWII.

In 1981 the Yankee Air Force was formed in an effort to preserve southeastern Michigan’s aviation history. The Yankee Air Force began to lay plans to preserve the Willow Run Airport. In 1941 Ford Motor Company built the Willow Run Airport to serve as an airfield for their B-24 Bomber Plant from 1942 until the end of WWII. At its peak, the Willow Run Airport produced one B-24 every 59 minutes and employed over 42,000 people. After the war, the airport became the hub for passenger flights and air freight in the Detroit and Metropolitan area.

The initial goal of the museum to acquire one of the U.S. Army Air Force’s hangars became a reality with the help of Wayne County, the airport’s original owner. Within the first year, the hangar was returned back to its original purpose and so the Yankee Air Museum was born.

Since 1981 the Yankee Air Museum has acquired many warbirds. They acquired their first plane in 1981, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain WWII transport, the “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The DC-3 was born out of a need for a larger version of the DC-2 that would allow for sleeping accommodations on transcontinental flights. The DC-3 is given most of the credit for an almost 600% increase in airline passenger traffic between 1936 and 1941. Seeing the potential the DC-3 had as a military aircraft, changes were made to accommodate more powerful engines, seats lining the walls, and a stronger rear fuselage and floor. Its primary use then became cargo transport during WWII. From 1935 until now, the DC-3 has had 76 years of continuing service.

The Yankee Air Museum’s award-winning flagship, the B-17G “Yankee Lady,” was featured in the movie, Tora! Tora! Tora! After the B-17G was acquired in 1986, it went through extensive restoration and was finally returned to flying status in 1995. The B-17 was originally designed for United States Army Air Corps competitions, but because funding was lacking only 30 Flying Fortresses were fully operational in September 1939 when Hitler launched an attack on Poland. After the Munich Crisis, US involvement in the war became necessary and the order for B-17s was increased. Production increased even more after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943 the B-17 along with the B-24 led the first bombing raid on Rome. With refinements to the B-17, it would soon become a necessary asset during the Allied War against Germany. The “Yankee Lady” is a grand symbol of those days as it flies for the Yankee Air Museum. It is available for air shows, flybys, and member trips.

Among the Yankee Air Museum’s prized possessions is the B-25D Mitchell, the “Yankee Warrior.” Acquired in 1987, the “Yankee Warrior,” saw combat in WWII in the 12th AF flying out of Corsica Island in the Mediterranean. In 1940 the US government approved the construction of a new series of aircraft, the B-25. The North American B-25 fought in every theatre of WWII. Sixteen B-25s were used in Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo. With 10,000 produced, it was the most produced American twin engine combat aircraft. In January of 1959, the last fully operational B-25 finally retired from the US Air Force inventory. The “Yankee Warrior” is one of two B-25Ds still fl own today.

On Oct. 9, 2004, the Yankee Air Museum suffered a terrible loss when their historic hangar caught on fi re and burnt to the ground. Thanks to the efforts of a few staff members all of the historic aircraft were salvaged.

Unfortunately virtually the entire museum’s tooling, spare parts, displays, office equipment and many historic artifacts were lost.

Thankfully the Michigan Aerospace Foundation (MAF) was founded as a sister organization to the Yankee Air Museum to plan and fund the future expansion of the museum’s facilities. After the fire in 2004, the MAF met with contractors and Willow Run Airport staff to begin planning the rebuilding of the hangar and museum. A ground breaking ceremony for the new Yankee Air Museum was held in April 2007.

The museum’s aircraft are now housed at a hangar rented at the Detroit Metro Airport. The museum members, staff, and volunteers are tirelessly working to raise enough funds to rebuild the hangar and bring their aircraft home again with hopes to break ground on the new hangar in 2013.

Since 1999, the museum has been putting on Thunder Over Michigan, an annual air show at Willow Run. Thunder Over Michigan is the Yankee Air Museum’s primary means of fundraising, and in only a few short years the show has become one of the nation’s premier warbird events. Thunder Over Michigan is one of the most photographed and written about shows in the country. This year’s show will take place on July 23 and 24 and will feature the US Navy Blue Angels along with a phenomenal line up of civilian and military performers.

Starting in 2012, the museum will produce a brand new event, Thunder Over Utah. Thunder Over Utah will be held March 17-18 in St. George, Utah. The Thunder Over Utah Air Show is being created from the ground up at the new St. George Regional Airport. The airport, which opened in January 2011, is conveniently located in picturesque St. George, Utah. The 2012 event has secured the appearance of the United States Navy Blue Angels.

The Yankee Air Museum also strives to educate youth about aviation. There are many educational programs for Boy Scouts, including Learn About Your Heritage Field Trip. This program allows Cub Scouts to learn about their heritage through an interactive tour of the Yankee Air Museum. They will find out how an assembly line works, why WWII was so important, and how children helped with the war effort. Cub Scouts can also earn their Heritage Belt Loop when they create a family tree and research museum documents. Boy Scouts can earn their Aviation Merit Badge at the museum. This program allows them to explore different careers in aviation, learn the forces of flight and how they affect aircraft, and complete with a flight from Willow Run Airport to Detroit Metro in a P-51 Mustang simulator.

Girl Scouts can also earn merit badges. To earn the Women’s Stories Badge, Girl Scouts will explore the Tribute to the Women of the Arsenal of Democracy Exhibit. Students will create their own display of contemporary role models, learn about women in WWII, make a family tree, and perform a skit. To earn their Aerospace Badge, Girl Scouts will investigate careers in the aerospace industry. They will learn about NASA, current female astronauts, and the women who made up Mercury 13. Brownies can learn about women’s and children’s roles in WWII in Stories from the Past.

The museum also hosts a summer camp for the first three weeks every August. The camp will feature a combination of activities and programs focused around aviation, aerospace, the history of WWII and the Willow Run bomber plant.

Programs are also available for schools. After school programs and library presentations are a great way to help students learn about WWII and aviation. Student Group Tours are available as well. The Museum is also a great venue for birthday parties. This museum offers an aviation program, tour of the museum, educational goodie bags, flights in the simulator, and a cockpit photo of the birthday boy or girl.

The museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the museum is only $3 for visitors 16 and older. Children under 18 accompanied with an adult are free.

For more information about the Yankee Air Museum, please visit www.yankeeaiprmuseum.org or by phone 734-483-4030.

July/August 2011 Aviators Hot Line WARBIRDS

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