The History of the Michigan Aerospace Foundation and the Yankee Air Museum
The Yankee Air Museum is located at historic Willow Run Airport, 35 miles southwest of Detroit, Michigan. The Airport was built by the Ford Motor Company in 1941 to serve as an airfield for Ford’s B-24 Bomber Plant; as each B-24 bomber was completed, it taxied to the airport runways and was flown off to action in World War II. The airport and bomber plant complex were key components of the massive “Arsenal of Democracy” that was critical to the Allied victory in the war. When the War was over, the airport became the hub for passenger flights and air freight in the Detroit metropolitan area. Many of the original WWII buildings at the airport were converted to service in research, flight instruction, and general aviation.
In 1981, a group of aircraft enthusiasts, adopting the name Yankee Air Force (YAF), shared the desire to preserve the facts and glamour of southeastern Michigan’s aviation history. They began to lay plans to research, restore, and preserve the all-but-forgotten history of Willow Run Airport, its role in the Second World War, and the historic aircraft of that and succeeding eras. YAF’s initial goal was to acquire one of the original U.S. Army Air Forces hangars at the airport and restore it to original condition. With the help of the Wayne County Road Commission (then the owners of the Airport), this first goal was accomplished and the Yankee Air Museum (YAM) was born. Over the years, the YAM spawned three additional Divisions (besides the main Division at Willow Run): the Saginaw Valley and Wurtsmith Divisions in Michigan, and the Northeast Division in New Jersey.
Since 1981, the Yankee Air Museum has acquired and returned to flying status six historic aircraft. The first plane was acquired in 1982, a Douglas C-47 transport built in 1945, and renamed the “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” A second aircraft became the flagship of the YAM fleet. It is a B-17G “Flying Fortress,” one of the most renowned airplanes of WWII. This heavy bomber was also manufactured in 1945 and, while not serving in WWII combat, was featured in the 1970 movie “Tora!Tora!Tora!” YAM purchased this magnificent plane in 1986, and renamed it the “Yankee Lady.” After nine years of painstaking restoration, the “Yankee Lady” was returned to flying status in 1995. She now stars in airshows across the country, and is believed by most of the “warbird” community to be the finest example of a restored B-17 anywhere in the world.
The Museum’s third flyable aircraft is a B-25D “Mitchell” medium-duty bomber similar to the type used in Colonel James Doolittle’s 1942 raid on Tokyo. This plane was acquired by the Museum in 1987, and rechristened the “Yankee Warrior.” She saw combat in World War II, and is one of only two B-25Ds still flying today. The “Yankee Warrior” joins “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Yankee Lady” on the airshow circuit as well.
The flyable aircraft are just one of the great features of the Yankee Air Museum. Another is the Museum's fascinating collection of civilian and military airplanes arrayed for static display at the Museum 's current location, as well as its nearby Air Park. The Air Park is currently under restricted access due to its location on airport grounds. The aircraft can be viewed from outside the fenced-in area, or by arranging a special tour with Museum staff. The Air Park includes the largest aircraft in the Museum’s Collection: a beautiful B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber, a Vietnam veteran on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This aircraft is believed to be the only B-52 on display in a private civilian Museum anywhere in the world. Another dozen aircraft of various types and vintages are on static display at the current Museum.
On October 9, 2004, the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport suffered a terrible fire that destroyed the historic hangar housing the Museum. Through the heroic efforts of a few Museum volunteers, the beautifully restored B-17, C-47 and B-25 aircraft were moved out of the building before the fire reached them, thus saving the heart of the Museum’s collection. A small number of non-flyable aircraft that were undergoing restoration inside the hanger were lost to the fire, as were the library and exhibit areas along with all of their publications, artifacts, and memorabilia. Also destroyed were virtually all of the tooling, equipment and spare parts for the flyable and static aircraft. In all, the value of materials lost in the fire exceeded $1,000,000 in replacement value (The historic aircraft on static display in the Air Park adjacent to the hangar were untouched by the fire).
The Yankee Air Museum members, staff and volunteers immediately began the recovery and rebuilding process. This process will culminate when the Yankee Air Museum is able to move into a preserved and renovated portion of the historic Willow Run Bomber Plant, and becomes the National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run.™ Our goal is to raise the funds necessary to complete restoration, and move into the preserved portion of the Willow Run Bomber Plant.
The Michigan Aerospace Foundation (MAF), the sister organization of the Museum which was formed to plan and fund future expansion of the museum. Both YAM and MAF are committed to preserving this important piece of aviation and Southeastern Michigan history.
To learn more about the Yankee Air Museum, visit the Yankee Air Museum Website.