Pilot Journal
Monday, May 1, 2006

The Aviation Storyteller

Preserving tales from the Golden Age

For Greg Herrick, collecting airplanes seems to be more of an addiction, less of a hobby. His eclectic assortment of more than 40 aircraft spans eight decades, with a focus on the period between World War I and World War II known as the Golden Age. As the owner of such an extraordinary collection, which includes one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable antique planes, Greg tackles a host of challenges—from replacing obscure parts to being the center of attention wherever he lands. The result is a preservation of history—it isn't just about the aircraft, but also the stories behind them.

Greg caught the "vintage bug" as a child who attended antique fly-ins with his father in Ottumwa, Iowa. For his high school graduation gift, Greg received flying lessons—he earned his pilot's license within two months. But his fever skyrocketed in 1992 when he took a ride in a friend's Fairchild PT-19. The following year, Greg purchased a PT-26. One PT-19 and PT-23 later, he had a full set of Fairchild trainers. That was just the beginning. Greg wanted to give the Golden Age the recognition it deserved: "It was a fabulous time with literally hundreds of models being built. Unfortunately, you see very few of them."

His planes are housed at the Golden Wings Museum (www.golden wingsmuseum.com) at Anoka County-Blaine Airport in Minneapolis. On the roster is a 1937 Fleetwings Seabird, a stainless-steel plane—one of five ever made—that Howard Hughes flew for three months. His 1927 Fairchild FC-2-WS (which he dubbed "the predecessor to the space shuttle") was the first plane that NACA (now NASA) owned. And if that's not impressive enough, there's the 1927 Ford Tri-Motor, the world's oldest flying airliner. Its controls have been handled by the likes of Charles Lindbergh (who piloted it in 1927 from Washington, D.C., to Mexico City, where he flew for the first time with his wife-to-be, Anne Morrow), Amelia Earhart, Bernt Balchen (the first to fly over the South Pole), Floyd Bennett (the first to fly over the North Pole) and the first air crew to fly the Atlantic from east to west.

Greg isn't concerned about how many planes he owns, he cares more about their history and the passion they instill. "To really understand an aircraft," Greg feels, "you need to know its story." When searching for appropriate planes, he devotes much of his time to researching accounts of the aircraft's struggles and achievements. The reward of restoration (which he often prefers to call "resurrection") is using his aircraft to narrate and preserve tales of the Golden Age.

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