The Museum was created in 1995 in an effort to preserve Montana's aviation history and to educate people about this kind of flying in the Rocky Mountains, as well as commemorate Johnson Flying service (1928-1976) that pioneered many of the tactics and uses for mountain flying.. From 1993 to 2000 the museum was housed in a very small hangar, and displayed photographs, two small aircraft, and numerous articles and small artifacts related to Johnson Flying service. During this time the museum played host to several classic aircraft displays, including the CAF's B-29 "FiFi", the LB-30 "Diamond Lil", and the Collings Foundation B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator Bombers.
The museum moved into its current facility about 8 years ago, a 18,500 square foot hangar across the tarmac from Neptune Aviation and their fleet of P2V Neptune Fire Bombers. Our meager collection has grown from a modified J-3 Cub and privately owned 1941 Boeing Stearman to include a Twin Beechcraft Model 18, or C-45, an HH-1H Huey helicopter, one of only 30 built of this particular model. We have two small homebuilt planes, a Clark Special three and a Jungster II. These two are static displays for kids to climb in, and are rigged with radio receivers so the kids can hear radio traffic from the tower. Also here is a 1930 Moth, an American built version of the De Havilland Tiger and Gypsy Moth. this plane hung for years in the Helena Airport Terminal, and was given to us after they remodeled. Restored, she is reputed to fly in her current state.
In the last few years, we had donated to us a time capsule of an airplane, a 1946 Stinson. This plane is in beautiful shape, everything is original, and the airframe has barely 600 hours on it! The pilot hardly flew it, and stopped flying it in 1964! It has seen its engine run up for 20 minutes a year since then.
Our main pride and joy is our DC-3/C-47, N24320. this aircraft was ordered by the US Air Force in 1944, declared surplus in 1946, and was purchased by Johnson Flying Service (to whom the museum is actually dedicated, at least in part) She served smokejumper duty for most of her life, but her most famous, infamous, and tragic hour was on August 5, 1949, when she dropped 15 smokejumpers over a routine grass fire in Mann Gulch, near Helena, Montana. The Smoke Spotter, who reported the fire, hiked in to meet the jumpers. Tragically, 13 of these brave men were killed when the fire blew up and chased them up the mountain. Only 3 survived.
N24320, or "Tilly" as some recently discovered images of her short lived nose art has shown us, also crashed landed in the river outside Pittsburgh on Dec, 22, 1954. 10 soldiers of the 23 on board, and the Johnson pilot flying her, drowned or died of exposure.
"Tilly" was sold in 1974, flew cargo for the remaining career she had, and was recovered by the museum in flying condition in 2002. She is now the centerpiece of our little museum, maintained and restored to her Johnson Flying Service colors by the same men who took care of her in the '40's, '50's, '60s and '70's. She does fly, and hopefully, if the funds can be raised to insure and fuel her, "Tilly" will be winging her way to Air Venture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Joining the museum in October of 2011, Grumman TBM "Avenger" C-GLEL returned to Missoula after an absence of 40 years to assist our mission as one of Johnson Flying Service's original aircraft. Currently Airworthy, we plan to restore "Tanker A-13" to her original JFS colors and hope to see her in the skies of Missoula for many years to come.
As for other things here, we have great displays devoted to the smoke jumpers, Missoula and CAA pilot training in WWII, Veterans and war hero's from the area (including "Hub" Zemke and one of the Doolittle Raiders), and several period vehicles. a 1930 Chevrolet sedan shares space with the Moth, while one of the original 1947 Federal Heavy trucks that served the DC-3 AND Johnson Flying Service sits equally restored to perfect order next to its charge.
Surrounding these large displays are walls of photographs, Artifacts, clothing and aircraft models that commemorate this golden age of flight.