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Old Wings of War to Be in Their Glory on Saturday

October 03, 1985|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Viewed from the air over the barrels of the twin 50-caliber machine guns mounted in the tail-gunner's turret, the Queen Mary looked like a puny relic from another age. Nearby, glistening white in the sun, the dome of the enormous Spruce Goose resembled more that of an expansive sitting duck.

Swooping low over the familiar scene, the B-25 bomber took another run with its guns at the ready. "That ought to wake the neighbors up," said a voice over the intercom as the metal of the fuselage vibrated noisily under the strain of the airplane's two propellers.

Time was when such flights struck fear in the hearts of those over whom they soared. During World War II, B-25s became famous for their use in air raids like the one later immortalized by Spencer Tracy's classic film, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." On this day, however, this 60-foot, 1943 bomber was churning harmlessly over the benign waters of Long Beach Harbor.

'Wings of Glory'

And on Saturday it will be sitting on the Tarmac at Douglas Aircraft Co. The event: the Douglas Historical Foundation's first annual "Wings of Glory" display featuring 25 to 30 airplanes and helicopters built from 1928 to the present. Its purpose: to kick off a major fund-raising effort aimed at creating a city museum dedicated to aviation history.

"Long Beach has been involved in aviation for many years," explained Harry Gann, historian for Douglas Aircraft Co., a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas Corp., the city's largest employer. Douglas Aircraft manufactured more than 10,000 airplanes during World War II alone.

Dewey Smith, president of the independent nonprofit historical foundation made up primarily of Douglas employees, added: "Southern California is the hub of the aerospace industry. These old airplanes just aren't around that much anymore for people to see."

Museum Planned

To remedy the situation, the foundation plans to build the 220,000-square-foot museum on land adjacent to the McDonnell Douglas plant between Lakewood Boulevard and Clark Street. The McDonnell Douglas Corp. has donated 1.5 acres for the purpose, according to Smith. In addition, he said, the foundation plans to ask the city for use of another three acres now comprising a grassy buffer zone between the parking lot and the street.

Ultimately, Smith said, the museum will house a permanent as well as a revolving collection of historical airplanes and aircraft memorabilia, along with a small library and displays pertaining to the role of Douglas Aircraft in aviation history. Although there will be a nominal admission charge for members of the general public, he said, students will be admitted free.

Career Conversations

"We have so many universities in the area," said Dan Synovec, senior media relations representative for Douglas and public relations representative for the historical foundation. "It would be very valuable for people considering a career in aerospace to be able to sit down and talk to someone in the industry."

Foundation officials estimate the cost of the new museum at about $12 million, which they expect to raise from public donations, special events and the sale of aircraft-related curios. To begin the effort they organized this weekend's display, to take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday on McDonnell Douglas grounds south of Wardlow Road and east of Cherry Avenue near the company's Building 54. Among featured aircraft will be DC-2 and DC-3 transports, B-17 and B-23 bombers, World War II fighter aircraft including the F6F-4 Hellcat and P-40E Kittyhawk, and antique airplanes including the Fairchild 24, Stearman, Tiger Moth and Harlow.

Admission to the event is $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and free for children under age 12.

Smith said the foundation hopes to attract between 20,000 and 30,000 people to Saturday's event, for a net profit of about $25,000. If future fund-raising efforts go well, he said, the foundation should be able to have the new museum operating in time for the city's centennial celebration in 1988.

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