The Flying Heritage Collection (FHC) recently added five new acquisitions, including an awe-inspiring M55 8-inch Self-Propelled Howitzer used in Vietnam, and a missile carrier developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War able to transport nuclear warheads. Hailing from three different continents and from countries formerly in conflict with one another, these rare specimens now converge peacefully under one roof.
The collections newest additions include:
8-Ton Half-Track Sd. Kfz. 7 from Germany
With regular wheels at the front and tracks like a tank at the back, the Half-Track could cover some of the harshest terrain, making it a popular choice for places like Russia and North Africa. It was designed to haul big guns like Flak 88s, examples of which can be found in the FHC’s collection of German artillery.
R-11M with 8U218 TEL (SS-1b Scud-A) Ballistic Missile System from the Soviet Union
This soviet ballistic missile system currently carries a 44 foot-long missile—the infamous SCUD that became well-known during the Gulf War. But it could also carry nuclear warheads.
General Dynamics M1A1 Abrams Turret Trainer (US)
This training tool represents a world-champion tank able to destroy everything in its path, which can move swiftly, and hit targets at huge distances.
17-Pounder Mk. I (Aust.) Anti-tank Gun (Australia)
Low to the ground (making it hard to spot) and with a very long barrel, the British designed Anti-Tank gun was the most effective allied gun at knocking out German tanks.
M55 8-inch Self-Propelled Howitzer
The U.S. Marines continued to use the M55 (built just down the road by Pacific Car & Foundry of Renton, Wash.,) in Vietnam even after it was phased-out by the Army.
Founded in 1998, FHC is made up of rare military aircraft from the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia, and Australia, and includes fifteen airworthy planes from 1918 to the 1980s. The collection was created by philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul G. Allen, whose passion for aviation, history, and technological innovation, inspired him to acquire combat aircraft and tanks, restore them to the highest standard of authenticity, and share them with the public.
The collection pays tribute to veterans and the machines that they commanded with exhibits of planes, tanks and artillery. But visitors can also see some of the most detail-oriented restorations on the planet. In a sense,” says FHC’s Executive Director Adrian Hunt, “collecting rare artifacts is just the beginning. It’s a thrill to see what started out as a twisted wreck of aluminum come to life again—and especially after 70 odd years.”
Such was the case with FHC’s German Fw190, a plane once considered the most advanced radial engine fighter in the world. After its WWII pilot crashed the aircraft near Leningrad, it lay undiscovered until 1990. It was airlifted piece by piece and entered into the delicate process of extensive renovation. Now, as part of the FHC, it’s the only flying example of its kind. “It’s the type of situation,” explains Hunt, “that can make seeing a plane take off both exhilarating and nerve-wracking.”
What does a museum with a keen focus on the past see for its future?
“We’re always looking to grow,” says Hunt. “And not just the number of our planes.”
FHC puts on a pretty good show with lumbering tanks that fire artillery every Memorial Day, a Monster Bash, Touch a Tank and Trunk events and airshows throughout the summer. But it’s not just about the “wow” factor. Hunt is putting muscle into the collection’s educational components. A forthcoming exhibition will explore the causes of war, where visitors will be able to experience the excitement of mastering rare machines via computer gaming and onsite flight simulators. And for the more traditional set there’s literature as well: Military Aviation Curator, Cory Graff, has just completed Flying Warbirds: An Illustrated Profile Collection of The Flying Heritage Collection’s Rare WWII-Era Aircraft, which walks readers through the technological stepping stones of aviation history.
“When I was younger, I immersed myself in rockets, robots, music, and chemistry,” writes Paul Allen in his autobiography, Idea Man. “An omnivorous reader, I thrilled to the exploits of pilots and explorers.”
The FHC offers the same vicarious thrill, showcasing the tools used in world-changing history and inspiring visitors’ imaginations to take flight.