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A Chunk of Aviation History Up for Bid : There will be a public preview of 70 war birds to be auctioned to raise money for the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica

<i> Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for Westside/Valley Calendar</i>

In this world of computerized Stealth fighters and smart bombs, there still seems to be a place in our hearts for vintage airplanes, those flying machines that took the first airline passengers cross-country, delivered the first airmail and fought in the “good” wars. Some of us like to look at them in museums or movies and television shows, to ponder what appear to be less complicated times. Others dare to own and fly them.

On Saturday and Sept. 29-30, the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica will preview for the public 70 war birds and classic planes, 20 time-honored cars, 20 motorcycles and airplane memorabilia that will be sold the following weekend at the second annual Museum of Flying Auction. The sale will benefit the museum and its aviation programs designed for school-age children. You, too, could own a flyable barnstormer or a B-17 Flying Fortress.

“All the good airplanes are going to be here in one spot at one time, and they’re all going to be for sale,” said auction director Bruce Redding, who owns six planes, including a huge amphibian Albatross. He has put up for auction a Harvard that he flew in past Reno Air Races. “It’s like collecting old cars; you get hooked. They’re all different and each one means something different to you.”

Classic cars to be auctioned include a 1951 Jaguar Roadster, an MGA, ‘60s muscle cars and a couple of Ferraris. Cars range in value from $7,000 to $100,000. Motorcycles will be mostly from the mid-1940s to late ‘50s vintage from such manufacturers as Harley-Davidson, Indian and Vincent.

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During the preview weekend, the public can also ride (for a fee of $35 per person, $25 for children under 12) in the world’s first all-metal airplane, a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor. Previously, planes had been made out of wood and fabric.

“Charles Lindbergh was this plane’s first pilot,” Redding said. “It’s the only plane Henry Ford ever flew in, and Franklin Roosevelt flew in it to get to the 1932 Democratic Convention.”

The Ford Tri-Motor, one of only three still flying, will be auctioned along with a full-scale, non-flying replica of the Voyager, flown by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan without refueling on a nonstop 1986 flight around the world. Yeager, an honorary member of the auction advisory board, is back in school in Northern California taking courses that she needs to help her obtain an appointment as an astronaut.

A Convair 240, renovated into a 16-seat luxury aircraft for Cary Grant when he was on the board of the perfume company, Faberge, is up for sale, as is the BD5 jet that was seen in the 1983 movie “Octopussy.” “That jet is the size of a desk, with the wings extended out about three feet on either side, and it’s very fast,” Redding said. “In the movie, they flew this thing through a set of closing hangar doors.”

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In the novelty category is Goodyear’s Inflatoplane, a small aircraft designed during World War II to be dropped behind enemy lines to a pilot who had been shot down. He could then inflate it with a little pump and fly back to safety. Redding said he wasn’t sure if it had ever been used successfully in the war.

One of Redding’s personal favorites is the rare five-seat Douglas AD-5 Skyraider, which was flown in Vietnam and is one of only three still flying.

Up for auction from overseas are two works in progress: a newly built Russian Yakovlev Yak-3, a fighter used in World War II, and a Japanese Zero fighter that was found on an island near Indonesia and is being restored at the museum. “When the auction comes around, the tail section will be complete,” Redding said of the Zero. “Next we’ll start on the wings and then the fuselage. We’re looking for a fly date of spring or summer, 1993.”

Redding added, “There’s only one other Zero in the world that’s flying.”

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The Yak-3 variant is being built in the factory just outside Moscow. “The Russians still have all of the plane’s original plans and the dyes and tooling,” Redding said. “It’s as if you could go to Ford and they could crank out a brand new Model A.”

Although auction attendees won’t have the opportunity to see the new Yak, the museum has in its collection an earlier all-wood example with identical dimensions, which will be on display. Additionally, the people who run the Yak factory, including Sergey Yakovlev, the son of the founder, will attend the auction and answer questions about the plane.

During World War II, the U.S. government built hundreds of thousands of aircraft for military purposes. After the war, said Redding, “many of them were smelted down and turned into pots and pans for all the burgeoning households that were created when the soldiers came home.”

The first stage of what he calls the war-bird movement began when crop dusters found that Stearman biplane trainers were great for spraying crops and inexpensive to buy. Forest fire fighters began to use bombers, and corporate executives bought bombers such as B-25s and A-26s and had them pressurized and turned into executive transports.

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“Then in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, professionals--doctors, lawyers, accountants, airline pilots--started buying some of the high-performance fighters to use as sport and get-around planes,” Redding said. “That was the movement for the next 25 years.

“It began changing in the mid-1980s when the collectors entered the market and prices started going up and up. One by one, professionals sold their fun toys because they could no longer afford the costs of insuring and operating them. And as the planes became older, the amount of maintenance required to keep them airworthy and safe went up proportionately. We saw the emergence of a third kind of buyer--wealthy collectors, entrepreneurs and museums--that could afford to purchase and operate these planes. That’s the stage we’re in now.”

Yet, a few planes in the auction are expected to sell for less than $20,000. And Redding said much of the memorabilia will be priced in the under-$100 category.

Items to bid on include fabric from a World War I plane, pins from German World War I pilot uniforms, photographs of flight luminaries such as Lindbergh and a small piece of original World War II nose art from a B-24 bomber.

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Manufacturers’ scale models of experimental aircraft, old TWA tickets, flight attendants’ uniforms and badges will join original World War II posters.

Among the aviation artifacts are what the military calls “blood chits.” If a pilot is shot down, he is to give the chit to the person who finds him. In the language of the country the pilot will be flying over, it says something to the effect of: “I’m a downed American aviator, please take me to safety and there will be a big reward for you.” Several vintage blood chits will be in the auction.

The Museum of Flying, which opened in 1989 to protect, restore and exhibit historic aircraft and aviation memorabilia, is located at Clover Field, the former site of the Douglas Aircraft factory.

“This is where they launched the Douglas World Cruisers from,” Redding said. “But even more important than that was the Douglas DC-3, the airplane that changed the face of air transport in the world.

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“It was that airplane that made transcontinental travel feasible in the late 1930s. You could leave New York at 7 at night, sleep in a sleeper booth, and be here by 7 a.m. The train took four days. Our aviation heritage here in America is very rich and it’s touched everyone’s lives.”


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