Willow Run Airport was built by the Ford Motor Company in 1941 to serve as an airfield for their B-24 Bomber Plant. This was the first aircraft manufacturing plant to use Ford's automotive mass production techniques, a leading technological innovation of the time. Ford Motor Company built 8,685 B-24s from 1942 until the end of World War II. At its peak, the Willow Run plant employed over 42,000 people and produced one B-24 every 59 minutes. The last bomber to roll off the assembly line was named the "Henry Ford." When the war was over the airport became the hub for passenger flights and air freight in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
In 1981, a group of enthusiastic people, adopting the name Yankee Air Force, shared the desire to preserve the facts and glamour of southeastern Michigan's aviation history. They began to lay plans to research, restore, and preserve the all but forgotten history of Willow Run Airport. Their initial goal was to aquire one of the original U.S. Army Air Forces hangars and restore it to its original condition. With the help of Wayne County, the owners of the airport, this first goal was accomplished and the Yankee Air Museum was born. The YAM now has two divisions, the Wurtsmith Division in Michigan and the Northeast Division in New Jersey.
Their second goal, to obtain a B-24 built at Willow Run, has proven to be a much tougher project. Over 18.000 Liberators were built and just 11 survive today, of which only 4 were built at Willow Run. In 1987, a PB4Y-2 Privateer, the Navy's single-tailed version of the B-24, was donated to the Museum for static display.
Since 1981 the Yankee Air Museum has acquired and returned to flying status five World War II aircraft. The first plane was acquired in 1981, a Douglas C-47 World War II transport which was built in 1945. The "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is the YAM's world class award-winning flagship. The B-17G "Flying Fortress" which was used in the movie "Tora!Tora!Tora!" was purchased in 1986. The "Yankee Lady" underwent extensive restoration and was returned to flying status in 1995. The B-25D "Mitchell", a medium-duty bomber similar to the type used in Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, was acquired in 1987. The "Yankee Warrior" saw combat in World War II and is one of only two B-25Ds still flying today.These aircraft are flown and displayed at numerous air shows from May through September. They are the pride of the Yankee Air Museum.
. On October 9, 2004, the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport suffered a terrible fire that destroyed the historic hangar housing the museum. Through the heroic efforts of a few members, the beautifully restored B-17, C-47 and B-25 aircraft were moved out of the building before the fire reached them, thus saving the heart of the collection. In addition, all the historic aircraft on display outside of the main building were untouched by the fire. The museum did, however, lose virtually all of the tooling, equipment and spare parts for all of the aircraft plus all of the office and display fixtures and equipment totaling well over $1,000,000 in replacement value. While thousands of irreplaceable artifacts, photos and books were also lost in the fire, the Volunteers at the museum are thankful that the aircraft collection remains largely intact. Only a small number of non-flyable aircraft that were in restoration inside the hanger were lost.
The Yankee Air Museum members, staff and volunteers immediately began to recover and rebuild. The aircraft, which continued their flight schedules after the fire, were moved into a hangar loaned by the Wayne County Airport Authority that manages Willow Run Airport. The volunteers and staff set up an office at the Airport and continued the operation of the Museum. Their mission was to continue the great work that was begun in 1981 by a small group of visionaries who were dedicated to preserving this important piece of aviation and Southeastern Michigan history.
The Michigan Aerospace Foundation (MAF) was formed as a sister organization of the Yankee Air Museum to plan and fund future expansion of the new Museum facilities. They met with architects and Willow Run Airport management just a few days after the fire and were given the go ahead to begin the planning process to lead to the construction of a new hangar and Museum.
Then in 2007, the hard work, dedication, planning and fund raising for the new Yankee Air Museum began to bear fruit. A ground breaking ceremony for the new Yankee Air Museum was held in April 2007 at the Air Park. A schoolhouse that was built by Henry Ford in 1938 and used during WW2 as an officer's club had been donated to the Museum. Shortly after the ground breaking, it was moved to its new location on A Street on the east side of the Airport. After much work, the Yankee Air Museum David and Andrea Robertson Education Center was dedicated and opened for business in June 2010. The Education Center is used for a variety of education activities including Scouting programs and Summer Camp.
In 2009, to re-establish the actual Museum that was lost in 2004, the Yankee Air Museum purchased a building from the Michigan Institute of Aviation and Technology (MIAT). The building is on D Street on the east side of the Airport and south of the Education Center. In October 2010, six years to the day of the fire, The Yankee Air Museum Collections & Exhibits Building was dedicated and opened to the public. The new facility is 47,000 sq. ft. and houses permanent and rotating aviation and historical displays, restoration projects, a retail store and a movie theatre that is available to the public. The "Headquarters" is also home to Yankee Air Museum staff and volunteers and has meeting rooms and banquet facilities for rent, machine shops and storage space for the Museum collection. An outside area next to the Museum is the new home of the Air Park.
We are now working on raising the funds and doing the planning for a new home for our flyable aircraft. The new hangar for the B-17 "Yankee Lady", B-25 "Yankee Warrior" and C-47 "Yankee Doodle Dandy" will be built at the corner of A Street and 3rd Street, adjoining both the Education Center and the new Collections & Exhibits building. A design for the hangar has been selected and we are currently in negotiation with the Airport and various local government authorities regarding site work. The goal is to break ground for the new hangar in 2013.For now, our new Museum and our Education programs are available for the public to experience and enjoy. We make our flyable aircraft available so people can re-live an important part of American and Michigan history. Our THUNDER OVER MICHIGANTM Air Show is one of the premier annual aviation events in the country. The Yankee Air Museum continues in its mission of "Honoring aviation history and its participants through a living, flying museum." Come see us and join the excitement!