The Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, California held their fourth annual Bikes & Bombers event last weekend. Bikes & Bombers IV was a fun event with judging going on of the various motorbikes entered in the competition component of the day. There was quite a lot of variety from German World War Two motorbikes to modern custom bikes.
The winner of the Peoples Choice Award for the best bike was a fantastic looking 1930’s era BMW R12. The Prize? The owner was given a flight in the museums North American SNJ-6 Texan. Lucky devil!
So where are the bombers I hear you say? Well this was my first time at the museum and I was impressed not only by the turn out of motorbikes but also the fantastic World War Two and Korean War era aircraft in the museum’s collection which includes the following bombers: a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, Douglas A-26B Invader and a North American B-25J Mitchell. They are accompanied by a Cessna O-1E Bird Dog, Douglas C-47B Skytrain, Douglas DC-3 and North American SNJ-6 Texan. The beauty of these famous aircraft is that they are all flight capable.
The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Fuddy Duddy” (S/N 44-83563) is painted in 447th Bomb Group markings and was delivered to the USAAF in April 1945. During the war it was configured as a VB-17G VIP transport in the Pacific theatre (it once carried General Dwight D. Eisenhower). Post war the B-17 was converted to a civilian fire bomber and also appeared in movies including Steve McQueen’s “The War Lover” (1962) and “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970). It was later restored to its original B-17G configuration.
The Cessna O-1E Bird Dog was used as a liaison, observation and Forward Air Control aircraft in the Korean and Vietnam wars. This one is painted in the markings of the US Army 183rd Seahorses who operated in Vietnam during the 1960’s.
The Douglas C-47B Skytrain “Willa Jean” (S/N 44-76791) is in paratroop transport configuration and sports USAAF 440th Troop Carrier Group, 97th Troop Carrier Squadron markings. This airframe first served with the USAAF and then was transferred in 1945 to the French Air Force, it was transferred to the Israeli Air Force in 1967 and eventually made its way into a civilian career.
The Douglas DC-3 “Flagship Orange County” (S/N 42-100931) painted in American Airlines livery started out life as a World War Two USAAF C-47A of the 440th Troop Carrier Group. It was used to drop paratroops of the 101st Airborne, “The Screaming Eagles” over Normandy during D-Day on June 6th, 1944. Post war it was configured as passenger airliner which you can see very well by poking your head through the fuselage side door!
The Douglas A-26B Invader “Feeding Frenzy” attack bomber (S/N 44-34538) is a real beauty, painted up in a Korean War all black scheme and fitted with rockets and full gun armament. The airframe was delivered to the USAAF in 1945 and went on to fly with the French Air Force in Indochina in the 1950’s. Later it was acquired by the Hughes Tool Company and is said to have been flown by Howard Hughes himself.
The North American B-25J Mitchell “Guardian of Freedom” (S/N 44-29465) was flown by the USAAF in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands as a patrol bomber during World War Two. After the war it was converted to a TB-25N training bomber and was used to train aircrews until 1958. The airframe changed hands a few times between 1958 and 2000 when it arrived in Santa Ana (in 1989 it was restored back to flying condition).
The North American SNJ-6 Texan trainer was delivered to the US Navy in 1945 and served until 1960. It then went into civilian hands and has been restored to its original condition (other than a modern radio unit). The aircraft was acquired by the museum in 2013.
The aircraft are displayed in the museums hangar with an incredible array of World War Two (and earlier) military vehicles, motorbikes and related memorabilia from the United States, Germany, Russia and Japan including an original condition 1939 Mercedes-Benz Model G4 Offener Touring Wagon (Chassis Number 440875) used by German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler in Ober Salzberg, Berlin and Poland before being captured by the French Army at Berchtesgaden in Southern Germany in 1945 (apparently it used to be displayed in a Las Vegas casino of all places before being purchased by the Lyon Air Museum!). There are also a number of classic cars and motorbikes on display. The museum is not a large one but it has an impressive collection!
The Lyon Air Museum was founded by retired USAF Major General William Lyon. Born in 1923 he first entered the US Army Air Corps in 1943 and flew aircraft ferrying flights during World War Two in the Pacific and Europe; flew 75 combat transport missions during the Korean War in 1953 and went on to hold numerous command posts including being appointed the Commander of the USAF Reserve in 1975. During his USAF career he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Major General William Lyon retired from the USAF in 1979 and went on to become a successful businessman. The air museum is just one small part of his legacy and he is still going strong in his 90’s! If you are in the area I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Lyon Air Museum and keep an eye out for Bikes & Bombers V.