Lyon Air Museum – John Wayne Airport, Orange County

We recently decided to visit the Lyon Air Museum after reading that one of their planes will be doing a fly-over at the first Huntington Beach Air Show this month. You can’t tell by the crowds that the museum has been open since 2009 – very empty on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We walked the minimal steps from the empty parking lot to the front entrance to the beat of 40′s-era music playing from outdoor speakers. After entering the front lobby and paying our entrance fee, we proceeded through the double doors into the museum. The Lyon Air Museum is the private collection of Major General William Lyon, a decorated war veteran and successful Western U.S. realty tycoon. If you’ve spent any time living or working in Orange County, there’s a good chance you’ve been in a William Lyon constructed building. His museum collection consists of WWII-era planes, automobiles and motorcycles for the most part. Docents are on hand from young pilots in training to decorated war vets. We learned about one of their docents online, Bob LaFramboise, a decorated helicopter pilot who specialized in downed pilot extraction during the Vietnam War.

As we ambled through the massive hangar we saw many perfectly restored airplanes including an American Airlines DC-3, T-6 Texan, A-26 Invader, Cesna Birddog like the one used by Danny Glover in the hit movie, Bat*21 and a C-47 Dakota that will be doing the fly-over at the airshow. Notable planes include a B-25 Mitchell like the ones used in the famous Doolittle Raid over Tokyo and B-17 Flying Fortress that was used by General Dwight D. Eisenhower before he became President. The whole backside of the hangar opens to the runways of John Wayne Airport. We stood in the doorway and listened to their air traffic control feed while watching helicopters and passenger planes take off and land. A second story viewing deck spans the entire front of the building and gives a perfect birds-eye view of the entire museum.

There are several historic automobiles and motorcycles at the Lyon Air Museum including a few that were once owned by Steve McQueen (minus the ’68 Bullitt Mustang) and a bullet-proof Mercedes that was used by Adolf Hitler. Nineteen-thirties-era vehicles include a V-16 Cadillac, Buick, Packard and Mercedes-Benz. The collection is bookended by a whimsical Helms Bakery Truck and an exquisite 1929 Duesenberg, the vehicle that coined the phrase for anything one-of-a-kind or elite, “It’s a Duesy”. Other military vehicles include several Jeeps and trucks. Unique motorcycles include a BMW sidecar, German Half-Track and Indian Chief, including one owned by Steve McQueen. Their most unique is a Panther, also owned by Steve McQueen, with a sidecar that resembles a classic wooden boat. Our docent said its creation had something to do with an argument between Steve and his girlfriend. We’ll leave the rest for you to find out.

Other displays of war memorabilia include an impressive collection of warbird models, military swords, flags, uniforms, pilot helmets and more. One display specifically honors the women of WWII who worked in the factories and the group of female pilots known as WASP. “We Can Do It” was their motto and they did. At the far end of the hangar is a small movie theater that projects a movie about the history of aviation. We spent about an hour to cover the museum without seeing the movie but I can see spending more time if you’re really into military history or vintage vehicles. Back at the exit/entrance of the museum are restrooms and a glass curio cabinet that acts as a gift shop and is filled with aeronautical and patriotic souvenirs for purchase. Lyon Air Museum is located south of the 55 freeway on Baker Street. Drive through Red Hill to the end of Baker Street and enter the driveway to left of the Lyon Air Museum sign. Follow that road (Ike Jones Road) around the curve to the end. The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas from 10 am to 4 pm. Cost is only $12/adults and $6/children with additional discounts for veterans, seniors, groups and more. Check their calendar for special events when plane walk-throughs are offered or when private events prevent public entry. We recommend heading there soon before it really gets discovered.