Harold Pitcairn and Amelia Earhart. When you mention these names, and museums, you think of the National Air and Space Museum. However, there is a museum that also celebrates these Aviation greats and other heroes. Located on PA State Route 611, otherwise known as Easton Road, is the Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum. The Wings of Freedom Museum is run by the DVHAA, the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association.
The DVHAA grew out of the Willow Grove Historical Aircraft Association. In 1972, the association decided they needed to work on restoring a collection of Aircraft that were rusting away in a small viewing area on the 611 highway. The collection of Aircraft had their beginnings when Lt. Commander David Ascher rescued Axis and Allied aircraft from being scrapped. Ascher was a man ahead of his time. While most of those Aircraft are no longer part of the Museum, that doesn’t detract from what is currently there.
In 2001, the DVHAA opened an indoor museum for its then most-prized possession, the two-seat ME-262 B-2a White 35. White 35 has now been moved to the National Museum of Naval Aviation for permanent display. However, if it wasn’t for the DVHAA protecting that rare aircraft, fans might not get to see flying ME-262s. White 35 was the template for the replicas that currently cross the skies. For more about that see The Stormbirds Project.
Exhibit One: The Hangar
While the 262 is no longer taking center stage, two very interesting aircraft representing the Korean War are. First is the Lockheed TV-1. The TV-1 BuNo 33824 was one of the U. S. Navy’s first jet aircrafts. The TV-1 was a P-80C Shooting Star. DVHAA has restored the TV-1 in USAF FT-824 colours as the Saggin’ Dragon. Next to the P-80 is an OH-13G “Sioux.” The Bell 47 is painted up as a M*A*S*H* “Hello,” complete with litter patients. The rest of the facility is loaded with items to get your hands on, an F-100D cockpit, as well as a Sea Sprite Cockpit. Also, there are cases of models representing the aircraft that flew out of the now closed base and its sister, the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster. Hanging from the ceiling is a scale replica of a Fokker DVIII, which was donated to the Museum in 2008. Another must-see is the history of Pitcairn Field and its famous visitor, Amelia Earhart. The Pitcairn Mailwing and Autogiro put sleepy Hatboro, Pennsylvania, on the map in the 1930s. If you look up above one of the cases, you will see an artifact I am quite fond of. It’s an aerial view of the Willow Grove Air Reserve Facility. Why am I partial to it? It hung in my father’s office for 20+ years. He was the one who commissioned it. Ok, truth be told, I am a little biased about this museum: I grew up looking at all the aircraft, see Sitting on the Porch Watching all the planes go by So now let’s step outside.
Exhibit Two: Outdoor Displays
Once you are done inside, you can step out to see the outside exhibits. The Museum has a good mix of aircraft and rotorcraft. The aircraft represent those that flew at the base over time. The Museum does have a P-3B Orion, but that isn’t on display with the collection. There is the C-1 Trader BuNo 146034. Based on the Tracker, the aircraft operated out of “the Grove” when her ship, the U.S.S. Independence was being serviced at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Next to her is an A-4M Skyhawk II in VMA-131 Diamondback markings. 131 was the last squadron to fly the A-4M. QG01 is painted like her sister, QG00, or “Double Nuts,” who was flown to Cherry Point for display.
In the same field is a North American FJ-4B Fury or “Fury Bravo.” BuNo 143568 Flew at the Grove and was retired in the mid 1960s. Willow Grove was always a reserve base. The Fury shows that, with both Marine and Navy titling on the fuselage.
Next to the FJ-4B is a rare F9F-2 Panther. The Panther BuNo 127120 served at NADC before it was stricken in 1962. It was donated by Aviation Lawyer, Arthur Wolk, in 1987.
Currently, the other side of the Museum grounds feature Rotor Craft. A UH-1V, a Gulf War Vet, shows how medical evacuation had changed since the Korean War. From Olive Drab, schemes go to colour. A UH-34J Seabat is in Orange and Engine Grey. The Seabats served at the Grove in similar schemes. Lastly, is not only a whirly bird that flew at the Grove, but one that was built just south of the base in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. The Piasecki HUP-2 Retriever was one of the Navy’s first Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters. The HUP was the predecessor of the CH-46 Sea Knight and the CH-47 Chinook.
Also in the same field is the Museum’s newest acquisition, a F-84F Thunderjet. The aircraft just has recently been restored in Pennsylvania Air National Guard markings. Currently, the Museum is also restoring a F8U-1 Crusader, one of only four in the world and the only one on the East Coast to have an F7U-3 Cutlass.
Hidden Gem: YF2Y-1 Sea Dart
The Museum has over time had very RARE aircraft. Currently the most interesting and rare aircraft is the Convair’s YF2Y-1 Sea Dart, one of five built and four surviving in museums. The Sea Dart was Convair’s answer to a jet-powered aircraft for the Navy that could be launched from water. Unlike most Seaplanes, the Sea Dart would accelerate onto skis, which were lowered from the watertight fuselage. One aircraft crashed, killing its pilot during a demonstration of the aircraft for the Navy. The aircraft was woefully underpowered and by the time it first flew on January 14, 1953, the carrier was a more than adequate way to project and recover jet-propelled aircraft. The Sea Dart to this day is the only Seaplane ever to exceed the Speed of Sound.
Check out this video; note the HUP-2 standing guard.
For a complete list of current and previous aircraft go HERE
While small, the Wings of Freedom Museum is a Museum with a lot of history. I have a great deal of history with it personally.
If you’re in the Philadelphia Area, it is a must-see.
Entry is Free: Though the museum suggests a $5.00 donation
The hours are:
Wednesday through Friday: 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday: 10:30 AM to 4:00 PM
Closed Major Holidays