MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO. — If vintage flying machines give you a lift, you need to visit the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum.
Located at Creve Coeur Airport in Maryland Heights, Mo., four large hangars are dedicated to about 60 airplanes. They range from a 1930 Curtis Air Sedan to the 1917 Standard J1 bi-plane flown in several Hollywood movies, including "The Great Waldo Pepper," starring Robert Redford.
Airport and museum owner Al Stix, of St. Louis, started flying with a buddy when he was stationed with the U.S. Army in England in the mid-1950s. Collecting aircraft has been a passion ever since. He bought the 300-acre airport in 1983 and opened the nonprofit museum in 1986.
He's always been attracted to planes with open-air cockpits, thin-skinned frames and wood propellers.
"You know you can collect planes from all ages, but this era, after World War I and up until World War II is much more interesting to me because machines were much more advanced afterwards," he said walking and ducking among the wings and bodies painted vivid scarlet, dull brown, emerald green. "I like 'em, that's all. Each is totally different from the other. Some hold two (cockpits); others have three places."
He and museum partner John Cournoyer are not only avid collectors, but restorers. All the aircraft in the museum are licensed and fly-worthy "for the most part."
"It takes us all day to get the tires inflated if we bring them out (on the tarmac)," Al said.
The two men focus on aircraft made or tied historically to Missouri. But they veer off the flight plan when it comes to special planes, such as the rare World War I DH4 bomber. The British aircraft, it was built in the United States.
"It was the only American plane used in the war," Al said.
Don't look for any that held wing-walkers.
"These planes are too fast for that. These can fly 120 miles per hour."
Bi-plane aficionados will thrill to see an early airliner, the 1929 Zenith Z-6A. Across the body is written "BAT, Bennett Air Transportation, Boise, Idaho." The logo is a black bat.
"They only built four and this is the only one still alive," Al said. "The pilot sat out in the breeze."
And the six passengers enjoyed cramped, noisy quarters inside.
"Can't imagine what that was like," Al said. "Maybe like being inside a washing machine."
Some of the crafts still bear signs of a working life. There's a bi-plane that became a crop duster, and others that did heavy-duty mail delivery after serving in the war.
The famous open- and closed-cockpit WACO planes manufactured by the Weaver Aircraft Co. from the early 1920 to the mid-1930s, are well represented. Lightweight, the bright red WACO JWM once made its living in the 1930s as an acrobat on the airshow circuit.
Near the museum hangars, "The Great Waldo Pepper" plane is undergoing some restoration by Glenn Peck, who for two decades has owned Peck Aeroplane Restoration, of Maryland Heights.
The plane is one of two that was in the movie, but, "this is the actual one that was in the opening scene," he said. "A girl fell out of this one in the movie."
Restorers pride themselves not only on making a plane look good and accurate to its period, but air-worthy.
Wiping his hands on a cloth, Glenn said he had been working for a week on duplicating the paint color of the aircraft. But that's not as hard as trying to get the engine to turn over.
"You know, there's no manual for it," he said with a sigh of the plane that was also flown in "The Rocketeer."
Ask Al about a special moment flying one of these vintage planes and he'll probably mention the maiden flight of a restored 1916 "Jenny," built by the Canadian Aeroplane Co. It was also known as Canuck. It's one of only two known to be in working order.
He landed it on one of the airport's two grass runways.
"... A nudge here and there seems to keep the old girl going in the general direction you want," he said of flying it.
Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum
Where: Creve Coeur Airport, 3127 Creve Coeur Mill Road, Maryland Heights, Mo. Note: Do not rely on GPS or online maps to get you here. Take Interstate 70 West to Earth City Exit 231A toward Missouri 141 South. Merge onto MO 141/Earth City/Maryland Heights Expressway. Stay on the expressway past the casino. Turn right on Creve Coeur Mill/Airport Road and look for the airport on the right.
Tour hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Call to confirm guide is available.
Cost: $10, adult; $5 children 5 to 12; free under 5. Call for group rates.
Information: 314-434-3368 or historicaircraftrestorationmuseum.org