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Rare warbirds, thrilling airshowRare warbirds, thrilling airshow

Add Madras, Oregon, to your must-visit list Add Madras, Oregon, to your must-visit list

Had you been standing in central Oregon in August of 2014, you might have wondered if you’d slid into the Twilight Zone, as an “aluminum overcast” consisting of about 20 World War II-era aircraft roared overhead, including a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell, a P-51D Mustang, a Douglas Invader, and an L-29 Delfin. This was no time warp, however, but a massive migration of some of the rarest airplanes on the planet, as the famed Erickson Aircraft Collection took permanent leave of its old digs in Tillamook, Oregon, where salty, corrosive air made conservation too challenging. 

  • The B-17G “Madras Maiden” flies over Lake Billy Chinook. The aircraft was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force in 1944 and is the only Pathfinder B-17 still in existence. Photo by Lyle Jansma, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • In 1971 Jack Erickson founded Erickson Air-Crane in Central Point, near Medford. After an initial focus on logging, the company entered the much larger market of wildland firefighting, utilizing the giant, iconic, blazing orange Sikorsky S-64 Aircrane. Photo courtesy Erickson Gallery.
  • In 1992, Erickson Air-Crane purchased the intellectual property of the S-64 from Sikorsky aircraft. Erickson Air-Cranes were soon being sold worldwide. Each aircraft is named; Air-Crane “Elvis” (shown here) helped save the lives of 14 firefighters in Australia. Photo courtesy Australia Wikipedia.
  • Erickson moved his warbird collection from Tillamook to Madras after purchasing a Madras-based air tanker operation. Because Madras had served as a primary training base for B-17 crews during World War II, Erickson decided to re-name his B-17 (named “Chuckie” after its former owner’s wife) “Madras Maiden” to honor those crews. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • The Erickson Collection’s Bellanca Aircruiser, shown here with Mt. Jefferson in the background, is the only Aircruiser that still flies. The aircraft, known for backcountry flying, was originally intended to serve as a commercial airliner. Photo by Lyle Jansma, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • The Grumman J2F-6 Duck began service with the U.S. Navy in 1934. Of 645 built, the museum’s Duck is now one of the few Ducks of its type that are still flyable. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • Although the carrier-based F4U Corsair served primarily in the Pacific Theater in World War II, the F4U-7 Corsair in the Erickson Aircraft Collection is one of 94 aircraft built in 1952 for use by French naval forces. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was used in the Pacific Theater and in North Africa during World War II. Its distinctive twin boom made it easy to recognize. The P-38L in the Erickson Aircraft Collecion was built in 1944. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • The Grumman FM-2 Wildcat featured folding wings for storage on an aircraft carrier and manual landing gear. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • The Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa, a Japanese fighter called Oscar by Allied forces, was an excellent dogfighting aircraft. Near the end of World War II, it was used in Kamikaze attacks. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • The Commemorative Air Force B-25 “Maid in the Shade” takes the runway during the 2014 Airshow of the Cascades. Photo by Matt Booty, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • Visitors can get close to rare and unique airplanes at the annual Airshow of the Cascades. Expect to see at least three rare warbirds from the Erickson Aircraft Collection in the air as well. Photo by Glen Tagami, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • Airshow performances take place Friday night and Saturday afternoon. You’ll be inspired when you watch Dan Buchanan, who suffered a spinal injury in 1981 in a hang glider accident. He lost his ability to walk but continues to fly hang gliders. His night show is loaded with special effects, pyrotechnics, lights, music, and the thrill of low flight. Photo courtesy Dariusz Jezewski
  • Smith Rock State Park’s sheer 600-foot cliffs are a magnet for rock climbers. Clever route names like Phone Call from Satan and Panic Attack are de rigeur. The park has numerous developed hiking trails, the two main ones being the Summit Trail and Misery Ridge. Choose from trails that follow the river or climb to the ridgelines for panoramic views. Photo by Thomas Shahan via Flickr.
  • Lake Billy Chinook, where trout, salmon, and bass await the angler. Photo by David Robertson via Flickr.

This impressive squadron landed at the Madras Municipal Airport in sunny central Oregon, where they rest in their beautifully designed, custom-built hangar. Almost all are airworthy, and you’ll see some fly during the annual Airshow of the Cascades, held each August and probably the best airshow you’ve never heard of. You’ll also see warbird dogfights, stunning aerobatic displays, a large car show, and other performances to complement that fabulous Erickson Collection.

Airshow or not, a trip to see the amazing Erickson Aircraft Collection is a must for any warbird lover. You’ll step into an expansive 65,000-square-foot, specially built hangar with arched roof. A large bank of windows on its east side allows natural light, augmented by strategically placed spotlights, to brilliantly illuminate the rare and immaculately maintained aircraft that make up what is generally considered one of the top five warbird collections in the world. They include the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortess Madras Maiden (the only Pathfinder B-17 left in the world), Lockheed P-38L Lightning Tangerine, North American B-25J Mitchell Heavenly Body, Lockheed PV-2D Harpoon Rose’s Raiders (the first built of a production of only 35), a Vought F4U-7 Corsair (one of the rarest surviving variants), a Bellanca Aircruiser (the only one left flying), a North American P-51D Mustang, a Grumman J2F-6 Duck (one of the last flyable in the world), a TBM Avenger, an SBD-3 Dauntless (the type was credited with every confirmed hit at Midway, and this airplane is one of the very few surviving), a Ki-43 Hayabusa, a Messerschmitt ME-109, and more.

Stephen Trischuk expertly maneuvers his Pitts X2C biplane near Madras, Oregon, in preparation for his performance at the 2016 Airshow of the Cascades. Photo by Glen Tagami.

After spending time with the airplanes, you can try a little back-to-nature activity. Smith Rock State Park, 23 miles south of Madras on Highway 97, is widely considered to be the birthplace of modern American sport climbing. Formed from hardened volcanic ash and basalt and dramatically carved by the Crooked River, the park’s sheer 600-foot cliffs are perfect for photographers, geology buffs, hikers, and rock climbers from novice to expert, with thousands of routes that cater to traditional and multi-pitch climbers, as well as boulderers.

Just nine miles southwest of Madras, The Cove Palisades State Park, on Lake Billy Chinook, offers houseboating, water skiing, and boat rentals. Fishermen wet their lines for brown trout, sockeye salmon, and smallmouth bass. Bull trout, rare over much of the West, thrive here and can also be kept; 20-pounders are not unusual. Spring chinook and rainbow trout are catch-and-release.

You can rough it a little by camping in the parks, sleep on the lake in a houseboat, or stay in Madras for the conveniences of civilization. The Inn at Cross Keys Station is right downtown. Outside the elegant three-story hotel you’ll find native plants and a three-pond waterfall. Inside, 76 rooms come with free Wi-Fi, hot breakfast, and a pool and fitness center.

Rio serves fresh, innovative Mexican cuisine, elegantly presented. Photo by Itzel Maldonado.

Hungry? At Geno’s Italian Grill, everything is made from scratch, including the fresh pasta, nine different calzones, and hearth-baked pizzas. Or, step into the small green house with the red roof that is Rio and elevate your expectations of what a Mexican restaurant can be. Family-owned, Rio starts with the freshest ingredients from local cuisines throughout Central and South America and brings them to life in time-honored family recipes updated with modern treatments. The Black Bear Diner specializes in comfort foods like chicken and waffles, meatloaf, slow-cooked pot roast, and spaghetti and meatballs, but you can also order Dijon-crusted salmon for dinner.

Fly to Madras for the best in summer airshow delights, and check out one of the world’s finest collections of warbirds in their gorgeous new showcase. Or, visit any time of year to see the collection and add a little outdoor adventure to the mix.

Because Madras had served as a primary training base for B-17 crews during World War II, Erickson decided to re-name his B-17. Noted aviation and nose-art historian Gary Velasco was brought in to paint the new name “Madras Maiden” and pin-up artwork on the B-17’s fuselage. Photo by Kevin Standlee via Flickr.
Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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