By Scott and Lisa Plummer
Live Music, food, beer and historic aviation – what more could you ask for? The long Memorial Day weekend at the Palm Springs Air Museum was a whirlwind of activity from celebration to serious remembrance packed into just three days. The Air Museum is flying high at the conclusion of one of its most successful event seasons in its 20 year history. Starting in last October and ending this past Memorial Day, the 2016-2017 program saw museum attendance increase and it’s collection of flying World War II aircraft visiting more aviation events.
Saturday, May 27th saw the opening of the Major General Kenneth P. Miles Hangar, a new building primarily dedicated to aviation history of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The large structure boosts the museum’s total covered space to over 86,000 square feet! “The museum is now the size of a Super Walmart,” said Fred Bell, vice chairman of the Palm Springs Air Museum. The museum houses roughly 60 vintage flying and static aircraft, the Berger Foundation Youth Exploration Center, the Berger Foundation Classroom Annex, the General Ken Miles Science Center, an upstairs library and education center with over 9,200 volumes (many with primary source materials) a community room, theater and wall exhibits throughout. The museum is full of impressive artifacts and experiences to learn from. It’s also incredibly popular, with over 100,000 visitors a year coming to see its four hangars full of aviation history.
Robert Pond founded the Palm Springs Air Museum in 1995 as a World War II air museum. Since then the collection has grown to include aircraft spanning the years from World War II to the Vietnam War. “Keeping our exhibits relevant to our patrons is highly important”, said Fred Bell as he talked about the addition of the new hangar. “When people donate money to your museum, you want them to be proud to bring their friends here and show them what they helped create,” he continued. In addition to the aircraft and exhibits housed within the new Major General Kenneth P. Miles Hangar, there is a state-of-the-art, stadium size TV screen at one end playing documentary-style videos exploring aviation history relevant to the surrounding artifacts. The new hangar also has a wall dedicated to POWs of the Vietnam War and another featuring a timeline covering important events of the Cold War. As Fred Bell talked about the new space, you could see a mixture of pride and relief in his eyes, now that the museum’s impressive, two million dollar addition is finally a reality.
In the Navy Hangar, volunteers were busy loading 3,000 carnations into the bomb bay of one of two B-25 Mitchell Bombers present at the museum over the Memorial Day weekend. The flower drop is the museum’s signature finale, marking the end of the event season.
As the day progressed, you could clearly see Fred Bell’s past relationship with the Walt Disney Company influencing the art of entertainment. With something for almost everyone’s tastes, live music played a mix of 80’s ballads, while a beer garden offered craft beer on tap, and the museum’s cafeteria had food for sale. There were even flight simulators for young and old to enjoy. Everyone’s needs were met.
At 1:00pm sharp, the Memorial Day event started with the honor guard presenting the colors. Fred Bell, who MCs many museum events, started to address the large crowd standing in the baking 108°F desert heat. After the opening remarks, Congressman Raul Ruiz gave an inspirational speech about the reasons behind Memorial Day. He then presented a Congressional Gold Medal for the late 2ndLt Aden Jones. Jones was one of 80 airmen who participated in the April, 1942 ‘Doolittle Raid’, the first U.S. air strike on the Japanese mainland since the attack on Pearl Harbor four months earlier. Jones, a bombardier, parachuted from his B-25 bomber into Japanese-occupied China and was rescued by Chinese guerrillas. Jones made his way back to American forces in the area and stayed in China for a further year during which he flew many more combat missions against then enemy. Following WWII, he worked as an aircraft electrician with Lockheed in Ontario, California for more than 30 years. Jones died in 1983. The US Congress decided to award the Doolittle Raiders collectively with the Gold Medal in 2015. Although most of the Raiders had passed on by this point, the medals still were passed on to their families as a sign of respect. Congressman Ruiz noted that, “Jones did not live to receive this award, but his memory lives on.” Dee Dee Rodler, president of the Inland Empire chapter of Gold Star Wives, accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of Janet Davidson, Aden Jones’ sister. Davidson, a Gold Star wife, is donating the medal to the museum, where it will remain on display. Following this presentation, Fred Bell took to the podium again and asked the crowd to make way as a tug moved a B-25, its bomb bay loaded with 3000 carnation flowers, from the hangar out onto the ramp. The B-25, with Carl Scholl at the controls, was accompanied by the Commemorative Air Force SoCal Wing’s unique PBJ Mitchell and three World War II fighter aircraft: the Palm Springs Air Museum’s P-51D and P-63, and CAF SoCal Wing’s F6F Hellcat. The flight therefore represented all three major American air arms of WWII: The US Army Air Corps, Marines and Navy.
As the flight performed a ‘missing man formation’ in front of the crowd, the silver B-25 loaded with carnations approached from the south. As the twin-engined bomber flew by the museum, at a safe altitude, Carl Scholl opened the bomb bay doors and the multitude of flowers cascaded down onto the museum’s ramp. Within moments of this, safety officers opened the gates onto the ramp and thousands of museum guests ran out to collect their own carnation. Then, as if on queue, the flight of four World War II aircraft flew by again in a picture perfect moment for everyone to enjoy.
This Memorial Day was a perfect ending to an event season for everyone who works at the museum. The Palm Springs Air Museum is open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas from 10:00am to 5:00pm. They offer 30 events during their active season from October to May. For more information go to
Many thanks to Scott Plummer for bringing us this article, along with his marvelous photography! To see more of Scott’s video and photography work, please click HERE.