Marcus Larson/
News-Register file photo##The Evergreen Aviation Museum, pictured earlier this year.
Marcus Larson/ News-Register file photo##The Evergreen Aviation Museum, pictured earlier this year.
By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Museum says exhibit count holding steady

Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum officials acknowledge losing seven planes from an inventory of approximately 140 over the last three years, in some cases due to sale of planes by their landlords, who own the museum’s theater and exhibit halls.

However, they said they have been adding replacements, keeping the overall number roughly constant.

All seven planes leaving the museum were owned by private parties. Their loss has stirred concern among some longtime museum supporters, who argue the planes made invaluable contributions to the museum’s historical display.

But the museum’s director of marketing and creativity, Robert Zeh, said a certain amount of turnover is inevitable, as the museum owns only 82 of the aircraft it has on display. The remainder are on loan, which is common for museums across the country, and subject to moves at the owners’ discretion.

SEE ALSO: Evergreen museum has turbulent history

“Owners of aircraft on loan to the museum are entitled to remove them at will,” Zeh said. “Removal of loaned aircraft does not have a direct correlation to the museum’s operations and well-being.”

Zeh said the museum has not sold any planes under its ownership, and has no intention of doing so. He said the Spruce Goose, the museum’s centerpiece, is among the planes it owns free and clear.

Two airplanes were recently sold — a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and a North American P-51 Mustang. Their loss has caused particular distress among museum supporters.

Zeh said five others have either been removed or scheduled for removal — a a B-17 Flying Fortress, a Lockheed P-38L, a North American P51-D, a Ford 5-AT-B and a General Motors TBM Avenger.

The B-17 is owned by the Collings Foundation, which acquired it during the dissolution of Evergreen Vintage Aircraft in federal bankruptcy court in 2015.

Eric Kilby photo/Flickr Creative Commons##The Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, pictured here at in at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in 2012, was sold earlier this year by Fall Events Center owner Steve Down, who acquired it and eight other planes during bankruptcy proceedings.

Zeh said the foundation had made it clear from the start that it intended to restore the plane to flying condition, before taking it on tour around the country. It was coincidence the plane ended up leaving about the same time as two other popular attractions, he said.

Zeh said the museum regrets the loss of the B-17, a perennial favorite of visitors. But he said the staff is “excited that many more people around the country will be able to experience one of the last remaining flyable B-17s in existence.”

Both the Corsair and Mustang were among seven planes acquired by Steve Down’s Falls Event Center last summer in the course of Michael King Smith Foundation bankruptcy proceedings.

The Utah businessman submitted a letter of intent to the court indicating he planned to leave all nine planes on permanent display at the museum.

When confronted about the change in plans, he told The Oregonian a business downturn stemming from a federal Securities and Exchange Commission investigation forced him to sell the Corsair and Mustang. 

Critics were outraged by what they viewed as a breach of promise.

The letter of intent was described as an “agreement in principle” for the Falls Event Center to acquire remaining foundation assets in federal bankruptcy court. The letter was supposed to be finalized when the sale closed, but no updated version was ever submitted to the court.

The letter includes a provision indicating the Falls Event Center “may resell any real property it acquires” in the sale, including any aircraft. It also contains a stipulation indicating all the aircraft “will remain on permanent display at the museum for as long as the museum properly stores and maintains the aircraft in accordance with industry standards and the museum’s standard practices.”

It’s unclear which provision might prevail under legal challenge. However, that may be a moot point.

According to the American Bar Association, if both parties agree a letter of intent is non-binding, it is not legally enforceable. In this case, both parties have done so.

“Enforceability is only an issue when one party insists it didn’t intend to be bound, because if all parties take the position, the question of enforceability doesn’t come up in the first place,” the Bar Association states in a 2012 publication.

Museum officials are of the same opinion.

“The letter of intent is just that,” Zeh said, “a statement of what the parties intend to do.” He told the News-Register that it merely “serves as a guideline to write the final documents.”

Currently, Zeh said, the museum has 133 aircraft on display and five undergoing restoration. He said three new acquisitions are expected to arrive this fall — a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, a General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark and a Panavia Tornado.

Over the past three years, he said, it also has acquired title to an A-10 “Warthog” and made the final payment on the famed Spruce Goose.

“The museum has not sold any aircraft it owns, and has policies in place that only allow for deaccessioning under strict conditions and after careful consideration,” Zeh said.

Of the 59 aircraft not under its ownership, he said, 35 are on loan from the U.S. government, 15 from corporations, six from individuals and two from other museums. He said that count includes seven aircraft owned by the Falls Event Center, two by the Collings Foundation and four by Affordable Mid-Coast Housing.

“After speaking directly with Mr. Down, the Museum has learned that TFEC has no plans to sell any of their seven remaining aircraft, including the Douglas DC-3A, despite recent rumors claiming otherwise,” Zeh told the News-Register.

“Currently, no other aircraft are scheduled to leave in the near future,” he said. But he said, “In 2020, the loan on the Messerschmidt Me-262a expires. At this point, it is unclear if the loan will be renewed.”

The total display count of 141 includes the McDonnell Douglas F-15A “Eagle” mounted across the street, outside former Evergreen International Aviation headquarters.

That building is scheduled for auctioning on the courthouse steps through a sheriff’s sale next month. If the new owners aren’t interested in retaining the F-15, mounted as a memorial to the museum’s Michael King Smith namesake, it will be placed on display on the main campus.

“That aircraft is on loan from the US government, and the museum is charged with its care as a condition of the loan,” Zeh said. “We have no intention of allowing that aircraft loan to be rescinded.”


Are there efforts being made to replace WW-2 AIRCRAFT ? what are they ? no doubt supporters are disgusted with seeing prized W2 war birds leave,bringing in the jet fighters will not heal this wound, The wound will heal when supporters see WW2 war birds coming through those Big double doors.


The museum is, in fact, on the lookout for those models and others from the period. It has an aggressive active acquisition program in place. It is committed actively exploring all viable options and opportunities.

On the plus side:
1) An anonymous donor purchased and transferred title to 17 planes that otherwise might have been lost.
2) Thanks to acquisitions, it has been able to hold the overall count steady at or around the 140 mark.
3) There are only seven planes left at potential risk, and the owner insists he has no plans to sell them, for what's that worth.

On balance, I think the good news outweighs the bad. Considering all the adversity the museum has faced, the situation could be vastly, vastly worse out there.

It would be nice is the community could rally around the museum to a greater extent.

Attitudes in some quarters seem hostile to the point of being destructive. That's a shame from my perspective, as I see the museum as an incredible asset.