During World War II, the Sonoran desert that makes up the southern two thirds of Arizona played host to a number of training bases. Luke, Gila Bend, Yuma and a score of satellite bases contained thousands of aviation cadets earning their wings in Stearmans, Vultees and Ryans. Those that came to Arizona got used to the sun, the parched landscape and the perfect flying weather. When the war was over, the concrete runways, wooden barracks and hangars remained. The men who fought the war went home, the military shrank, and peace broke out.
Remnants were left behind, though, the barracks, the runways, the hangars. A short drive from any part of the Phoenix area, the Doug Champlin's Fighter Museum contains one of the most comprehensive collections of fighter aircraft anywhere in the world. From World War I up to the Vietnam era, real examples of fighter aircraft, or exacting replicas, adorn two WWII hangars on the southern part of Falcon Field airport. In all, there are 33 flyable aircraft. Stepping inside the hangars, one forgets the urban sprawl of Phoenix and the world outside, and if you try hard enough, you could imagine it is WWII all over again.
Champlin is known for his acquisition abilities, and his collection is proof. Walking into the WWII hangar, visitors are greeted by a Me-109E, Fw-190D-9, F2G Corsair, and a P-40N Warhawk. Further back, a P-38, P-51D, P-47 and Yak-3 keep company. A Japanese George fighter, restored by the Smithsonian, is the only example people can observe. Each of the fighters are restored and are in flying condition, although they are not flown for obvious reasons.
Walking through the display gives the visitor a very real sense of history, as displays along the walls of the WWII era hangars give color and detail to the aircraft. Champlin is also a keen collector of militaria and guns; a large number of these items are on display. The hall that provides the museum's connecting point between the hangars contains a gift shop and an aviation art room. Once home to the Fighter Aces Association, the facility is now home to numerous original paintings depicting aerial combat during WWI and WWII.
Walking from the WWII hangar, visitors pass through a center hangar that contains the early jet fighters. A North American F-86 in the marking's of "Boots" Blesse sits toe to toe with a MiG-15, its early cold war nemesis. Kitty corner to the duo is the later MiG-17, a relatively crude fighter that gave our F-4's and F-8's fits over Vietnam. These jets offer an area where one can compare the different design philosophies and production standards between east and west.
Once through the jet hangar, visitors enter the WWI hangar. These were the world's first fighter aircraft, and aviation historians will be enchanted with the diverse collection of real and replica biplanes. French, German and English fighters populate the hangar. The strong point of the WWI fighters is the German collection.
While aviation enthusiasts and historians will undoubtedly learn about the aircraft and their part in world history, they will also see the craftsmanship (or lack of it) in the aircraft. For the most part, each aircraft is in outstanding condition, but they are authentic examples and show their blemishes. Authenticity does not suffer at the Champlin Fighter Museum.
Doug Champlin's Fighter Museum is located at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. Admission to the museum is $6.50 for adults and $3.00 for children. Kids under 5 get in free. The facility is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Welcome to Snappy Places
You will find information about the West Valley side of the Phoenix Metro area. "Snappy" will also feature attractions and places throughout Arizona.
Arizona is more than the Grand Canyon state, it is a place to embrace and call home. From our famous palm trees to our beautiful pine trees, Arizona's landscape is brimming with nature's grandeur and diversity. Our majestic mountains invite you to climb, our valleys coax you to explore and our plains whisper stories of civilizations past. Saddle up to history-rich towns, breathtaking views and world-class fashion and food.