Saturday, March 7, 2015

Tiger in Bubble Wrap - Then and Now at the Air Zoo

While sorting through some older photographs, I came across something that one does not see every day.

Then: P-40, February 14, 2004

It was a P-40 in Flying Tiger-inspired livery, cocooned in bubble wrap, and hung from the ceiling like a child's mobile.

Then: P-40, February 14, 2004

I took these photos eleven winters ago while I was a docent at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI. We were visiting the building currently known as "Main Campus" to see how construction was coming along.

Then: P-40, February 14, 2004

The entrance atrium to the museum was essentially built around this P-40, once owned by museum co-founder Sue Parish.

"Now": P-40 with Kristy, The Bear, and "Sue", August 5, 2011

"Now": P-40, August 5, 2011

Remove the bubble wrap, retract the gear, and position the aircraft at a rakish angle; this is how it looks today.

Then: SR-71B, May 3, 2003

After acquiring the SR-71B Blackbird (the only remaining B variant in the world), the museum's original quarters (now called "East Campus" and serving as the restoration center) had become a bit tight. With that said, my compliments to Bob Ellis; the man had a knack for arranging airplanes and this particular arrangement was especially impressive (in this photo alone: SR-71B, B-25, Douglas SBD, Bf-109, SPAD S.VII, MiG-21, Douglas C-47, F-14 Tomcat, F-18 Hornet, and a Douglas Skyraider).

"Now": SR-71B, September 27, 2013
In the current facility, the Blackbird has much more breathing room, allowing guests to step back and truly take it all in.

Then: XP-55, March 26, 2003

This is the world's only surviving Curtiss XP-55 Ascender as it was displayed in the old Air Zoo restoration hangar (now closed) in more or less the same condition it was received from the Smithsonian.

"Now": XP-55, September 27, 2013

The Ascender cleaned up very well in the hands of the Air Zoo's capable restoration shop.

Then: Aircraft carrier deck, February 14, 2004

When we visited the unfinished Main Campus building, Rick Herter was still finishing his massive, hand painted (and world-record setting) mural "Century of Flight".

Then: Aircraft carrier deck, February 14, 2004

The landing Tomcat provided a backdrop to a simulated carrier deck.

"Now": Aircraft carrier deck, May 20, 2006
(Some "now" photos are obviously more current than others, but still representative.)

Here's a similar vantage point in the finished space with an actual Tomcat parked on the faux carrier deck.

Then: World War II area, February 14, 2004

"Now": World War II area, August 5, 2011

Then: 4-D Missions Theater, February 14, 2004

"Now": 4-D Missions Theater, January 2, 2006

Then: F-18 at East Campus, September 25, 2003 taken while sitting in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat.

"Now": F-18 at Main Campus, January 2, 2006

Quite the change of venue!

"Then": Balloon ride / early aviation, February 14, 2004

The goal with Main Campus was to include some aviation themed carnival style rides. We (the volunteers) were initially dubious about these, but people seem to like them well enough. The museum also commissioned novel artwork for the floor. For the early era of aviation, the floor depicted a park-like setting. The walls were still a blank slate for the "Century of Flight" mural.

"Now": Balloon ride / early aviation, me and The Bear, May 30, 2010 (photo by Kristy)

The Bear absolutely loves this ride. Fortunately, after observing museum visitors spin in this "people centrifuge", I at least knew enough to sit facing the direction of rotation. A portion of Rick Herter's completed mural is visible behind the balloon ride.

"Now": Balloon ride / early aviation, September 27, 2013

The museum certainly changed a lot during my time there as a volunteer. For me, the biggest changes began with a Flying Tiger ensconced in bubble wrap.

More posts about the Air Zoo can be found here:


  1. Great pics! I see I need to move the Air Zoo further up my visit list!

    1. Absolutely! And I can promise that the bubble wrap is long gone!

  2. Your pictures provide a great look back.....awesome "now" shots. I hope to make that trip sometime along with a visit to the museum at Dayton.

    1. Thanks, Gary! We're trying to organize a mass pilgrimage to Dayton for the flying club in early June.

  3. Chris, Please keep me in the loop.