As I drove up the back entrance to the Skagit Regional Airport on a Saturday morning in June, several historic aircraft flew over my head. I knew I was close to my destination and hurried to park, pay my entrance fee, and join a small, all-ages crowd seated in the aircraft hangar with amazing views of several small older aircraft flying in formation at the Heritage Flight Museum (HFM) Fly Days.
Heritage Flight Museum Fly Days
The Heritage Flight Museum has 18 aircraft along with vehicles, artifacts, photographs and exhibits on flight from people with access to incredible information. Fly Days at the Heritage Flight Museum gives the public a chance to witness historical planes in flight. Sitting next to me were renown veteran pilots, photographers from the Abbotsford International Air Show, and a number of families with small children. One family from the U.K., was here visiting family. The father flies a medical helicopter. As much as the young children seemed to enjoy the events, some had brought ear protection because of the loud engine noise.
Heritage Flight Museum Founded by Astronaut’s Family
William “Bill” Anders is a name many find familiar, but more so for the Baby Boomers crowd that watched the early astronauts on television. In addition to donning the famous white jumpsuit and helmet for space travel, Anders is a retired United State Air Force major general, former electrical engineer, nuclear engineer, a businessman, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Norway. He pointed to a little girl and declared, “She looks like a future pilot.”
Major Gen. Anders, and his wife Valerie Anders, is also a resident of Anacortes, while his sons live in Whatcom County and assist not only in the flying, but in the operations of HFM. The family founded HFM in 1996 in Bellingham. In 2014, the museum moved to its current site in Skagit County.
What is possibly more fascinating is he is not only still driving at age 88, but he is still flying in Fly Days in formation with two of his sons, Lt. Col. Greg Anders and Alan Anders. Like his father, Lt. Col. Anders has more than 4,500 flight hours, including 15 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and six years in the Idaho Air Force Air National Guard. Per the museum’s website, he is mission qualified and an instructor pilot in the F-15E and the B-52. He has flown many military and civilian aircraft.
Lt. Col. Anders, got out of his plane and stopped to thank the volunteer announcer, retired KGMI AM radio host Bill Quehrn, speak to the crowd and to introduce special staff and guests. The Museum’s head mechanic now is a young woman, Grace Stephens, who was recruited fresh out of school to work on the aging aircraft.
The planes would be towed from parking status to the runway, to take off with crowds cheering their progress. At the end of the flight demonstrations, a rope was let down to allow the group to access the runway and see the planes up close and to talk with the pilots.
Alan Anders, according to the Museum, has pursued careers in commercial art, computer animation, and making feature films at DreamWorks Animation in addition to his more recent 11 years of flying with more than 2,000 hours at the wheel.
The Heritage Flight Museum’s Focus
The museum was established to allow people to come and see what planes were like decades ago. “The museum focuses on honoring veterans – both old and new, as well as keeping history alive,” explains Karen Hicks, Heritage Flight Museum photographer, also oversees events. “The museum has a great story to tell. Our founders, staff and volunteers are very proud of the museum and the story it tells from the WWII era in addition to our two new exhibits. We welcome and educate visitors of all age groups to immerse themselves in the story and leave here with a sense of awe. Saying to themselves, ‘I never knew.’”
Be sure to check out the 1968 Experience and Earthrise Gallery, alluding to the photograph Bill Anders took looking back at the Earth from space, and personal artifacts such as a piece of the Moon.
Visiting the Heritage Flight Museum
The Skagit Airport is fairly easy to access with free parking, discounted entrance for seniors, children and military members. For more information, visit the Heritage Flight Museum website or call 360.424.5151. Karen Hicks can also be contacted for using the facility for business, private or community group events.
The Museum also relies heavily on volunteers including education and outreach coordination, event committee, docents, grant writing. “We currently have 53 volunteers,” Hicks says. “The duties vary from marshalling aircraft, manning the activity and recruitment tables, docents that give guided tours of the aircraft, answering questions from the public, photographers, assisting in the gift shop, as well as assisting with the setup of the museum before an event. We are always looking for volunteers, each one has a different life experience who is assets to the museum.” Those interested in that level of involvement can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heritage Flight Museum
15053 Crosswind Drive, Burlington