The Legacy of Ed Maloney and his air museum

by Scott Thompson

The Planes of Fame air museum is a nationally known and well-established facility whose origins date back to the 1950s. It was the vision of just one man, Ed Maloney, to create an air museum back when there were no such things as air museums.

Maloney grew up enthralled with airplanes in aviation-rich Southern California during the pre-World War II years, Then he watched with dismay as our World War II armada of aircraft were scrapped by the tens of thousands after the war, with a major scrapyard right in his backyard at what is now the Chino Airport.

He decided early on to try and save some of these aircraft, and slowly began collecting cast-off or abandoned fighters and bombers, particularly seeking out the unusual or rare airplanes. He opened the first iteration of his vision in 1957 in Claremont, calling it simply “The Air Museum.” It was the first museum dedicated just to airplanes established in the western U.S. Maloney continued to collect airplanes and he soon outgrew the Claremont location so the museum was moved to the nearby Ontario Airport. In the days before there were such things as “warbirds,” many thought him a fool only collecting scrap and junk.

Funding was non-existent but Maloney and a small group of supporters could see what many others could not: there would soon enough be great historical value in the military airplanes that had played such a vital role in World War II.

Maloney managed to collect some very rare aircraft, including a Japanese Zero, a Boeing P-26 Peashooter, and a Seversky P-35 fighter. In the earlier days, few of the airplanes were airworthy. There was no money to operate, much less restore, such aircraft. The Air Museum obtained, on loan from the USAF, a B-17G in 1960. The B-17 was featured as the Picadily Lily in the TV series 12 O’Clock High, which was filmed largely at Chino between 1964 and 1966.

Ed Maloney (1928-2016), visionary and founder of The Air Museum. (photo via Planes of Fame)

Then, in the early 1970s, a joint venture was initiated to move some of the collection to a more tourist-rich area in Orange County. Located in Buena Park not far from Knotts Berry Farm, the Planes of Fame/Cars of the Stars facility was opened but it was not particularly successful. After a few years, it was closed and the airplanes were trucked back to Ontario. But the name “Planes of Fame” stuck. The entire museum was moved to Chino in the mid-1970, where it has been ever since.

In the early days at Chino, when funding and support remained scarce, the aircraft collection suffered. But through the 1980s and 1990s, as interest grew in warbirds and the museum gained a firmer financial foundation, the Planes of Fame museum gained a reputation for putting a growing number of its rare aircraft back into the air and flying them in some amazing annual airshows.

Maloney’s two sons, John and Jim Maloney, and their elementary school buddy Steve Hinton, became the up and coming generation that pushed the museum toward maturity. Though John Maloney was killed in a 1983 plane crash, Steve Hinton is the current president of Planes of Fame, and Jim Maloney remains a critical element in making the museum run smoothly.

It’s a bit of a family affair also, as Steve Hinton married one of Ed Maloney’s daughters, Karen, and she also is part of the museum management team. Ed Maloney passed away in 2016 leaving his vision fulfilled.

Now, in 2017, it is exciting to think that Planes Of Fame is looking northward to Lincoln as its new home. The whole equation that equals our airport would change for the better and the possibility for a very positive outcome now exists.