There’s something slightly cliché about multi-generational activities, but as part of our family trip to California for spring break I was determined at some point to break up the family by gender. So a few days ago my son G-, my Dad and I spun off from the girls and went out for an adventure of our own. The gals went shopping (speaking of cliché activities!) and we men? We went to the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, courtesy of Destination Irvine.
Unlike other air museums that are focused on a random selection of planes that represent different eras in aviation, the Lyon Air Museum is focused exclusively on World War II, and while its collection isn’t extensive, it’s a really nice size for an afternoon of strolling around and learning about their pristine collection of planes, cars and motorcycles from that era.
The gem of the collection is their Boeing B17 Flying Fortress, a plane that was first flown in 1935 with its crew of ten (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, flight engineer / top turret gunner, radio operator, two waist gunners, a tail gunner and a ball turret gunner). You wouldn’t believe that it’s from 1935, however, because it’s immaculate. In fact, their B17 is still flying and eagle-eyed viewers of the terrific film Tora, Tora, Tora can see this plane in the air more than once (tip: keep an eye on the tail number).
I was also impressed by the 1941 Dodge WC-6 Command and Reconnaissance truck with its six-cylinder in-line engine, mostly with the amazing amount of leg room for the back seat passengers. But if you’re a general, I guess you don’t want to be jammed in the back of a Jeep.
G- was impressed by all the motorcycles and kept touching them (though everything’s hands-off as is usual with museums). Our favorite: The 1943 German NSU Kettenkrad HK 101 tracked motorcycle. Yep, a motorcycle with tank treads on it. Though only a 36 horsepower 4-cylinder engine, it was used to tow Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters and similar planes. Cool.
In total, we stayed there just under two hours, and its location on the very western edge of Orange County / John Wayne airport mean that it offers some awesome views of the planes taking off towards the ocean too, something we enjoyed watching.
A few days later, my son’s still talking about the planes we saw, and my Dad’s still remarking on how much he enjoyed our visit and the condition of the various planes and vehicles. I’d say this is a hidden gem in the middle of Orange County and next time you’re heading to the airport, get there a few hours early and for a surprisingly reasonable admission fee go in and get a feel for some aviation and military history.
Disclaimer: Thanks to the Destination Irvine for picking up our tickets so we could check out the air museum.