David Tallichet, 84; WWII pilot preserved historic planes

Times Staff Writer

David C. Tallichet Jr., a World War II bomber pilot who made his money building destination restaurants and often spent it preserving warplanes, a hobby he once called "foolish" for its expense but which turned him into a leading collector of the aircraft, has died. He was 84.

Tallichet, whose restaurants include the Proud Bird adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport and 94th Aero Squadron near Van Nuys Airport, died Oct. 31 at his home in Orange of complications related to prostate cancer, said his son John D. Tallichet.

"There is no other person in the country who is so singularly responsible for the preservation of these aircraft," said Gary Lewi of the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, N.Y. "He saved the aircraft for another generation, but he also used them to pay tribute to those who flew them."

As recently as July, Tallichet flew his B-17 Flying Fortress to a Michigan air show and was honored as the last World War II combat pilot who was still flying the rare aircraft, his family said.

Last year, the Airpower museum gave him a lifetime achievement award and said he "understood the importance of these aircraft in an era when the vast bulk of them were being fed into the smelter."

In 1989, he piloted the B-17 bomber across the north Atlantic so it could appear in the title role of the movie "Memphis Belle," about the first U.S. bomber crew to fly 25 missions over Europe during the war.

At one point, Tallichet owned as many as 120 planes -- one standout was a Martin B-26 Marauder -- but he had fewer than half that many in recent years. In the early 1990s, he began selling some to buyers an associate called "Internet billionaires," who could afford the $30,000 it might take to replace an engine.

A visit to the Smithsonian's National Air Museum in the early 1960s inspired Tallichet to go into the airplane restoration business.

He had flown more than 20 World War II missions over occupied Europe as the co-pilot of a B-17 bomber, which he considered "a living symbol of American courage and sacrifice," Tallichet told the New York Daily News in 1998.

Among his first purchases was a P-51 Mustang fighter for $13,000. He owned, and usually flew, such historical craft as B-25 Mitchell bombers, Korean-era MiG jets, P-40 Tomahawk fighters and giant B-29 bombers.

Trudging into the jungle to hunt down planes and carting aircraft parts out of the Canadian Rockies brought out the adventurer in Tallichet, who enjoyed the horse-trading that went into collecting, his son said.

Yet when it came to acknowledging his legacy, "he was of the Jimmy Stewart, 'aw shucks, what are you talking about?' school, but he knew that the icons he flew at air shows around the country would make a difference in people understanding our past," Lewi said.

The means to build his private air force came from Specialty Restaurants Corp., a destination-restaurant business he established with Sea World founder George Millay. Their first location, the Polynesian-themed Reef in Long Beach, opened in 1958 and more than 100 other restaurants across the U.S. followed.

Now chaired by Tallichet's son John, the Anaheim-based company operates 25 restaurants in nine states, including the Odyssey in Granada Hills and the Castaway in Burbank. The company also built Ports O'Call Village in San Pedro.

From the outset, the company specialized in what it called "the Disneyland effect" and created fictional histories to go with its restaurant concepts, the Nation's Restaurant News reported in 1985. Its World War II-themed restaurants include several 94th Aero Squadron eateries decorated with war memorabilia.

Military Aircraft Restoration Corp., a subsidiary of the restaurant company, was established to handle the vintage aircraft but largely made money manufacturing replicas. They have been used as props in films such as "Pearl Harbor" (2001) and "Collateral Damage" (2002) and often grace the entrances of airplane museums.

David Compton Tallichet Jr. was born Dec. 20, 1922, in Dallas.

He attended the University of the South in Tennessee, the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University in Texas, but left before completing his English degree.

During World War II, he joined the Army Air Forces and remained on active reserve status until 1957.

After the war he worked for the Hilton Corp., and in 1955 he managed the Lafayette Hotel in Long Beach. After the hotel hosted a Miss Universe pageant, he married the contestant from Indiana.

In addition to his wife, Carol, and son John of Newport Beach, Tallichet is survived by a daughter, Catherine Ann of Jackson Hole, Wyo.; two other sons, William of San Pedro and James of Jackson Hole; and four grandchildren.



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