Museum Spotlight: Tillamook Air Museum

The Convair 880 and F-14 Tomcat are two favorites at the Oregon aviation museum.

Tillamook Air Museum’s Convair 880. [Courtesy: Tillamook Air Museum]

We all have our favorite aircraft—even the people who are charged with caring for them at the aviation museums across the country. Since December is the birthday month of powered flight, FLYING magazine reached out to museums across the country to find out which aircraft are the personal favorites of the museum staff as well as the museum visitors.

Tillamook Air Museum, Tillamook, Oregon

Asking Tillamook Air Museum curator Christian Gurling what is his favorite airplane in the museum collection proved to be a challenge, and a lot like asking a parent which is their favorite child. After careful consideration Gurling told us he is partial to the Convair 880 forward fuselage that the museum has in its possession—because of a family connection.

"The Convair 880 was an iconic aircraft designed and built at the dawn of the jet age. Howard Hughes was intimately involved in its development. Business mogul Howard Hughes wanted an aircraft that was unique, different, and groundbreaking. He certainly got that with the design of the Convair 880," Gurling said.

"The reason it is my favorite amongst our collection is not for any of the aforementioned reasons, but rather because I hold a sentimental attachment to this aircraft. My grandfather, Edward Gurling, who I was quite close to, worked for Convair Aircraft in San Diego, California for 45 years as a machinist, and later a manufacturing engineer for 45 years. Among the many aircraft he worked on and was quite proud of, was the Convair 880," Gurling said. "I marvel that he was a part of a dynamic team that brought the Convair 880 to fruition many years ago, and that now I am tasked with preserving and protecting the legacy of this magnificent aircraft that he held so dear for future generations."

According to Gurling, the museum's 880 was built in 1960 by Convair Aircraft of San Diego, California, and delivered to Northeast Airlines. The aircraft was part of the airline fleet, then went to Trans-World Airlines (TWA), where it remained until it was retired in 1974.

F-14 Tomcat [Courtesy: Tillamook Air Museum]

Visitor Favorite at Tillamook Air Museum: F-14 Tomcat

Tillamook Airport (KTMK), the home of the Tillamook Air Museum, began as Tillamook Naval Air Station during World War II, so it makes sense that the bulk of the aircraft in the museum collection are from the U.S. Navy. The favorite aircraft of visitors is perhaps the most admired aircraft in naval aviation: the F-14 Tomcat.

Gurling attributes the F-14's popularity to its starring role in Top Gun, the 1986 film that inspired generations of aviators, and boosted enlistment in the Navy by 300 percent.

"It's easily the most recognizable military fighter of all time," says Gurling. "And now, with the new 'Top Gun' film, Top Gun: Maverick, having been released this year in which the F-14 Tomcat again makes an appearance, the aircraft has entered a new generation of popular culture. As such, the aircraft has always been a hit with our visitors, and will no doubt continue to be so for the foreseeable future."

Gurling notes the museum’s F-14 Tomcat was actually in the first Top Gun movie—it was in three scenes, including one where it fired the very last missile deployed in the movie.

The museum's F-14 had some adventures in real life as well: In 1988 when it was assigned to the USS Enterprise, it was involved in a real-life encounter with two Soviet MiG-23s.

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.

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