FAGEN FIGHTERS WWII MUSEUM PART I - LEONARDO CORREA LUNA

MONTEVIDEO

How I ended up visiting the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in the small town of Granite Falls Minnesota is a story in itself. It all started a few months before my flight to Oshkosh, WI. for Air Venture 2016. The trip to Oshkosh from Livermore, CA, has become a tradition to do with my 5 years old daughter Jade in our 1952 Cessna 170. One day, while I was wasting time on Facebook, I saw a post of a friend who was in a commercial by a mobile phone company about Montevideo "Minnesota"! Montevideo, Minnesota is a sister city to my hometown Montevideo, Uruguay. This was a big discovery for me since I had never heard of this sister city in the USA before. After a quick check on the sectional chart I saw Montevideo had a really nice airport (extra points for the grass runway!) and it was not too far from Oshkosh, WI. So, I decided to add a stop in Montevideo to my flight plan after our Oshkosh festivities.

Oshkosh 2016 included an amazing week of flying, visiting friends and new places along the way. While in OSH, I was talking to several of my native friends from Minnesota. I told them I was planning to visit Montevideo MN. After I mentioned this, several of them commented “of course Montevideo”, one of them being a Montevideo native! Another friend was from a nearby town! In addition, all of my friends told me, “When you go to Montevideo, you must visit the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls, it’s only a few miles from Montevideo”. I'm not a big fan of museums, I like to see the planes flying, not in hangars, and to that the response was that all the aircraft in this museum are in pristine flying order! And with that, my decision was that I definitely needed to visit the museum.

Ryan Mohr and Tony Philippi, both friends of mine, have had a friendship with the founder and museum owner and they both promised to make some calls to arrange a private tour. And if all this was not enough, while in Oshkosh for a week where there are 10,000 planes parked, it just so happened that just two planes away from where we were camping with our Cessna170, I discovered that my neighbor Kent Bosch is a native of Montevideo MN... Kent of course also promised to make some calls to get the best possible treatment during my visit.

The day we arrived to Montevideo, Kent was waiting at the airport with his car and drove us to Patrick’s home. Pat was not only one of the main actors in the commercial that led me to discover Montevideo, MN. But he was also the host of the crew that filmed the commercial ... small world. That night, with Patrick and his family, we had a fabulous dinner including Uruguayan wine! After the dinner Patrick insisted that I should borrow his car to use it the next day on our visit to the museum. We could not have had better hosts on our visit to Montevideo, everything felt like home.

Big smiles after arrive to Montevideo in our 52 Cessna 170B! foto Kent Bosch

Big smiles after arrive to Montevideo in our 52 Cessna 170B! foto Kent Bosch

THE MUSEUM

The next day, after a lazy and slow wake up, we insert the museum coordinates in the GPS and headed towards the highway. The scenery and landscape of Minnesota was beautiful and very similar to Uruguay. The whole experience made me feel at home. Initially, the GPS took us to the wrong place. We ended up at a farm that didn’t have an airport or museum in sight! It was only open fields and cows! After entering the address again on the GPS and waiting for the new route, it seemed this time to be the right directions. When getting close to the museum, we discovered that unfortunately the highway before and after the museum was closed for repairs. Time to go old school turn off the GPS and look at a map. We found an alternative route and followed a small road that finally led us to the museum.

The first thing we saw was a large scale model reproduction of Bob Hoovers yellow P51 outside. The "Gate Guardian" had the four blades of the propeller broken, a reminder that only a few days before this trip, the airport was hit by a tornado that destroyed several hangars and aircraft. Fortunately, the museum was not damaged, (two of its hangars are tornado proof). We parked and headed to the museum only to discover that on Mondays it is closed! Luckily, our friends that had made the promised calls had lined up a meeting and after asking at the local FBO where I could locate the manager of the museum, one of the staff employees kindly gave me the right directions where I was able to find Steve Lindquist who would be our guide during the tour of the museum.

Lindy's keeping an eye on the restoration process of the Helldiver, pretty sure another Lindy will join the gang after the restoration is completed.

Steve invited us to enter the museum through the "back door" (much better than the main one!) that leads right into the maintenance area where several statues of the "Lindy" (maximum prize for a restoration granted by the EAA every year at Oshkosh) monitors the Helldiver, Ercoupe and Wildcat. These were very impressive restorations that are testimony to the quality of the work of the mechanics and volunteers of the Fagen WWII Fighters Museum. Steve told me that the Ercoupe belonged to Ray Fagen, father of Ron Fagen. He also said that the spectacular Wildcat had just got a new engine and was about to complete the annual inspection to return to the skies. In the hangar I had the pleasure of meeting one of the mechanics, Benny Valminck. Undoubtedly Benny is a mechanic in his soul and flesh!.


In his flesh...Warbird mechanic Benny Vlaminck

Pristine cockpit of the Wildcat FM-2

Pristine cockpit of the Wildcat FM-2

Continuing with the tour, Steve invited us to the next room where I had my first encounter with the public area of the museum. The training hangar leaves a first impression that is full of admiration towards the quality of the exhibition, it is just impeccable. The design of the museum is simply spectacular. Steve showed me one of the gliders, the Waco CG4A that was used during the WWII on D-Day. This glider has its structure open to appreciate all the details of what one might call a "flying coffin". Steve told me that more than 80% of these gliders were destroyed and most of its crew died during training and combat operations.

It can be said that the first wing, no pun intended, of the museum was a "warm up" for what was to come later. Compared with the other sections, this was one of the simplest. There were vehicles like the M16 Half Track, a Harley and Scooter Cushman used by paratroopers parked around the training aircraft, the Fairchild PT-19, PT- 26, Ryan PT-22, and a spectacular “Jenny” JN-4 that Steve confessed as his favorite. There was also a "hangar" full of toys for younger guests and a gift shop!


FAGEN FIGHTERS WWII MUSEUM TRAINING HANGAR

THE P-40 FACTORY

We ended the tour of the first hangar and Steve invited us to continue the journey to the next exhibition. But before this, he surprised me in what would become my favorite part of the museum. We headed to a hangar where at the door you read a sign that said, "Employees Only", my kind of sign!

Opening the door, my eyes could not believe what they were seeing! Basically what stood before me was a P-40 factory!

First thing I see is  Andy Ufkin riveting a new P-40 wing, and Brandon Deuel was manufacturing parts for the top cover of the cowl. This scene was unreal! It was quickly turning into a trip back in time to military factories in 1940! Steve showed me an original wing that was being used as a reference for building the new one. There were shelves full of NOS parts, and like if you were opening the cave of Ali Baba by pressing a button a sliding door rise to expose 5 or 6 Allison engines!

You can say that the Fagen museum is able to create their own Flying Tigers squadron! just amazing!

The workshop was as clean as a hospital operating room before an open heart surgery. It seemed that every possible type of machine to bend, cut or model metal was available to Brandon and Andy to create their masterpiece. Steve invited me to continue on and I made a mental note to return to the factory later after visiting the other hangars. The P-40 factory deserved several extra clicks from my camera!

Andy the "Riveter", Andy Ufkin working hard riveting the new P-40E wing.

THE P-40 FACTORY

TO BE CONTINUED...

UNA VISITA AL FAGEN WWII FIGHTERS MUSEUM

MONTEVIDEO

La forma en como termine visitando el Fagen Fighters WWII Museum en la pequeña ciudad de Granite Falls Minnesota es una historia en si misma, todo comienza unos meses antes de mi vuelo a Oshkosh para Airventure 2016, el viaje seria como ya es tradición con mi hija Jade de 5 años en nuestro Cessna 170 1952 volando desde Livermore California. Un día perdiendo mi tiempo en Facebook veo en la pagina de una amiga un comercial de la compañía de teléfonos Movistar sobre Montevideo "Minnesota"! ciudad hermana de mi ciudad natal Montevideo, Uruguay. Esto fue un descubrimiento ya que nunca había escuchado de esta ciudad hermana en los USA y no estando tan lejos de Oshkosh Wisconsin es que decido agregar una escala en Montevideo a mi plan de vuelo para luego del festival de Oshkosh.

Ya arribados a Oshkosh 2016 luego de una fantástica semana de vuelo visitando amigos y nuevos lugares conversando con varios de mis amigos nativos de Minnesota les comento que pensaba visitar Montevideo MN, increíblemente cuando menciono esto varios de ellos me comentan “por supuesto Montevideo!”, incluso siendo uno de ellos nativo de Montevideo y otro de la ciudad vecina!, sumado a esto todos mis amigos me comentan, “cuando vayas a Montevideo tienes que visitar el Museo Fagen Fighters WWII en Granite Falls a pocas millas de Montevideo”. No soy un gran fanático de los museos me gusta ver los aviones volando no guardados en un hangar a lo que me responden que todos los aviones en este museo están en orden de vuelo!...eso fue definitivo para decidir mi visita a este museo.

Ryan Mohr y Tony Philippi tienen amistad con el fundador y dueño del Museo y me prometieron hacer unas llamadas para recibir un tour privado y si todo esto fuera poco en Oshkosh aeropuerto donde durante una semana hay 10.000 aviones aparcados a dos aviones de distancia de donde estábamos acampando con nuestro 170 descubro que mi vecino Kent Bosch resulta ser nativo de...?, Montevideo Minnesota por supuesto…, y también me promete realizar unas llamadas para recibir la mejor atención posible durante mi visita.

El día que arribamos al aeropuerto de Montevideo Kent nos estaba esperando con su auto y nos llevo a la casa de Patrick, Pat no solo fue uno de los principales actores del comercial que me llevo a descubrir Montevideo MN también fue el anfitrión de la tripulación que filmo el comercial...mundo pequeño...esa noche con Patrick tuvimos una cena fabulosa con su familia incluyendo vino Uruguayo! Luego de la cena Pat insistió en prestarme su auto para usarlo el día siguiente en nuestra visita al museo, no podríamos haber tenido mejores anfitriones en nuestra visita a Montevideo.

EL MUSEO

A la mañana siguiente luego de un despertar algo perezoso cargamos la dirección del museo en el GPS y enfilamos hacia la ruta, el paisaje del campo de Minnesota es hermoso y muy similar al de Uruguay inicialmente el GPS nos llevo a una granja en el medio campo con muchas vacas y sin ningún aeropuerto a la vista, luego de volver a poner los datos del museo es que nos genera una nueva ruta que esta vez parece la correcta pero desafortunadamente la autopista antes y después del museo estaba cerrada por reparaciones!, apagamos el GPS y mirando el mapa buscamos un camino alternativo y siguiendo un pequeño camino vecinal finalmente arribamos al museo.

Lo primero que vemos es una gran maqueta reproducción a escala del P51 amarillo de Bob Hoover, esta maqueta haciendo de "Gate Guardian" tenia las 4 palas de la hélice rotas un recordatorio de que solo hace unos días el aeropuerto había sido impactado por un tornado que destruyo varios hangares y aviones, dentro de la desgracia afortunadamente el museo no sufrió daños (dos de sus hangares son a prueba de tornados). Estacionamos y nos dirigimos al museo y veo que los lunes esta cerrado!, por suerte nuestros amigos habían hecho las llamadas prometidas y luego de preguntar en el FBO del aeropuerto de Granite Falls (el museo esta en el aeropuerto) donde podría localizar el encargado del museo, amablemente uno de los empleados del FBO me da las direcciones correctas y logre encontrar a Steve Lindquist que estaría encargado de darnos el tour.

Por suerte Steve me invita a ingresar al Museo por la "puerta de servicio" que lleva directo al área de mantenimiento donde las estatuas de los "Lindy"(máximo premio a una restauración otorgado por la EAA cada año en Oshkosh) vigilan el Helldiver, Wildcat y Ercoupe los cuales son testimonio a la calidad del trabajo de los mecánicos y voluntarios del Fagen Fighters Museum. Steve me comenta que el Ercoupe pertenecía a Ray Fagen padre de Ron Fagen y que el espectacular Wildcat se le acababa de cambiar el motor y se le estaba por completar la inspección anual para pronto retornar a los cielos. En el hangar tengo el gusto de conocer a uno de los mecánicos Benny Valminck, Benny respira y vive ser mecánico sin dudas esta en su alma y su piel.

Siguiendo el tour Steve me invita a la siguiente sala donde tengo mi primer encuentro con lo que es propiamente el museo, el hangar de entrenamiento, la primer impresión es de total admiración, la calidad de la presentación es impecable, el gusto con el que esta hecho y diseñado el museo es sencillamente espectacular. Steve me muestra uno de los planeadores Waco CG4A usados en la Segunda Guerra en el DIA D, este planeador esta con su estructura abierta para poder apreciar todos los detalles de lo que uno podría llamar un "cajón volador" o "ataúd volador" Steve me comenta que mas del 80% de estos planeadores fueron destruidos falleciendo la mayor parte de sus tripulantes.

Se puede decir que esta primera ala del museo es un "calentamiento" para lo que vería luego, comparada con las otras secciones esta es una de las mas simples, algunos vehículos como el M16 Half Track, una Harley y un Scooter Cushman de los usados por los paracaidistas están aparcados alrededor las aeronaves de entrenamiento Fairchild PT-19, PT-26, Ryan PT-22, y un espectacular Jenny JN-4 que Steve me confiesa es su favorito, y también hay un "hangar" lleno de juguetes para que los mas pequeños se entretengan y un local de regalos.

LA FABRICA DE P-40

Finalizado el recorrido del primer hangar Steve me invita a continuar el tour, pero antes me daría una sorpresa en lo que seria mi parte favorita del museo, nos dirigimos a un hangar donde en la puerta dice "Solo para empleados" mi tipo favorito de señal!. Al abrir la puerta mis ojos no podían creer lo que estaban viendo, básicamente una fabrica de P-40!

Mientras Andy Ufkin agregaba remaches a una nueva ala del P-40 Brandon Deuel estaba fabricando partes para el capot, la escena era un viaje en el tiempo a las fabricas militares de 1940, Steve me muestra un ala original que había sido usada como referencia para construir la nueva, las estanterías llenas de repuestos NOS y como si hubiera abierto la Cueva de Ali Baba al apretar un botón una puerta corrediza se eleva para dejar a la vista 5 o 6 motores Allison! se puede decir que el museo Fagen esta en condiciones de crear su propio Escuadrón de Tigres Voladores!.

El taller esta tan limpio como un quirófano previo a una cirugía del corazón y pareciera ser que todo tipo posible de maquina para doblar, cortar o moldear metal estuviera en el mismo a disposición de Brandon y Andy para crear sus obras de arte, Steve me invita a continuar y hago una nota mental de volver al taller de fabricación de "P-40s" luego de visitar los otros hangares.