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February, 2005
Feature header

Hiller Aviation Museum: Fascinating Family Fun
By Dana Guzzetti

Eager kids prepare to fly in the Young Eagle program at the Hiller Aviation Museum Eager kids prepare to fly in the Young Eagle program at the Hiller Aviation Museum. Photo by Jon Adamson.

California’s largest indoor aircraft museum opened in 1998, but many Bay Area residents are still unaware of Hiller Aviation Museum, located at the San Carlos Airport.

The huge facility is filled with fascinating exhibits about flight. A collection of early aircraft from 1905 to 1915 are suspended above visitors entering the atrium.

At the museum, visitors will find a full-scale replica of the Avitor, built in 1869 in San Francisco. It was an unmanned, steam powered, “aeroplane” that flew long before the Wright Brothers attempted their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk.

The museum is named for Stanley Hiller, Jr., who was a precocious 19-year old when he invented his first helicopter. Then he had to teach himself to fly it. To help keep the experimental plane secret, he tested it in the UC, Berkeley Memorial stadium.

Reportedly Hiller tethered the aircraft to the ground so it would not go too high until he learned to control it. Although there were a few crashes in the beginning, he was soon landing in unlikely spots about the city of Berkeley.

Hiller is known to have been fascinated by business, and was “...driven by the thought of new opportunities in vertical lift.” His UH-12 is best known for its use in MASH operations in the Korean War.

Hiller Aircraft was known for innovations such as the Hiller flying platform, a surveillance satellite, and a tilt-wing transport (predecessor to Marine’s Osprey).

Planes on display
Along with videos, photographic and interactive displays, one can check out a Stinson 8, built in 1929 for Varney Airlines. Varney later joined with three other companies to become United Airlines.

The unmanned Condor “spy plane” with its 201-foot wingspan came to the Museum from the Lawrence Livermore Lab. It was flown in the 1990s for various purposes, including weather station checks and photography. The Condor is said to have had the longest range of any large aircraft in the world at that time.

Guests will have a chance to try out some of the cockpit sections of larger aircraft. There is a training cockpit of the Douglas A-4M (Skyhawk) and the front section of a Boeing 747, which is accessible to the public with pilot docents who share their experiences in it.

The front 90-foot section the Boeing Super Sonic Transport, a Link Trainer, and glider and more are on display.

Every aircraft tells a story of innovation in the history of aviation, according to Museum Spokesperson Willie Turner.

While there, look for an interesting collection of experimental aircraft, and don’t miss the museum’s Restoration Shop, where maintenance and restoration are ongoing.

Coming Attractions
• Every third Saturday, ongoing: Free flights for 8–17 year olds.
• February 12, at 11am Special presentation: “Where is Amelia?” Speaker Reed Dennis, recounts flying the support plane for Linda Finch, when she reenacted the Earhart flight.
• February 12, at 1:30pm, Author lecture: Elgin Long, author of The Mystery Is Solved, a book on Earhart’s last flight, will discuss the search project.
• February 26: Special teacher/ educator sessions 1 to 5pm. Hiller invites teachers to bring their classes on a field trip. Hiller has received grants, which provide teaching materials, and help defray the cost of a field trip.
• March 2005: Nauticos Under Water Search Systems, which found the Japanese fleet at Midway is planning a new expedition to discover the true fate of Earhart. They plan to search a 1,000-mile section of the Pacific Ocean.

Hiller Aviation Museum General Information
• Special tours are available for groups of 15 or more
• Site is available for meetings, dinners and receptions for up to 524 people.
• Flight Shop has aircraft photos, books, models and other aviation related gift items for aviation and flight history buffs and other interested readers.
• Museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Cost: $8/adults, $5/youth, free for children under seven.
• Contact info: 601 Skyway Road, at San Carlos Airport, telephone 650/654-0200, online at

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