Oregon Museum Using Ghosts to Teach Aviation History

Built entirely of wood due to wartime restrictions on metals, the ‘Spruce Goose’ stands as a symbol of American industry during World War II. Courtesy: Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum

Some of aviation’s ghosts are more famous than others. The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, is the home of the Howard Hughes H-4. Hughes dubbed the behemoth wooden airplane The Hercules, but most people know it as ‘the Spruce Goose,’ a pejorative name allegedly bestowed by a senator who objected to the cost of the aircraft. Hughes detested the name—possibly due in part because the aircraft is constructed primarily of birch.

According to Kathryn Sinor, education director for the museum, some volunteers have reported catching a glimpse of Hughes at after-hours events.

“Sometimes, they say he is in the cockpit, sometimes in the theater,” she said. “They say you catch him out of the corner of your eye.”

Ghostly Education

The museum decided to make the ghost stories educational and this year from October 29 to 31 has offered flashlight ghost tours. The “ghosts” are spiritually attached to different aircraft in the museum’s collection. The visitors meet them along the tour and hear their stories.

“For example, they meet the ghost of a 1920s airmail pilot who is attached to the museum’s de Havilland DH-4,” says Sinor. “Being an airmail pilot was very dangerous. A lot of them died on the job.” History records that those who flew routes over mountains in what we would now call instrument conditions and an expected lifespan of approximately 30 days. Collisions with terrain, which were almost always fatal, were common.

Another “ghost” on the tour is a female Russian pilot from World War II known as a “Night Witch.” These women flew obsolete, open-cockpit World War I-era airplanes over the Russian front at night. They swooped down low, dropping bombs by hand on the German troops below. When the Germans learned the pilots terrifying them were women, they gave them the name Night Witches, implying they were supernatural beings.

And on the subject of the supernatural, UFO encounters and the Bermuda Triangle may be part of the fun, says Sinor, adding that the ghost tour is a great way to celebrate the spooky season—and teach the visitors about the aircraft and the people who flew them at the same time.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter