The history of the Santa Maria Museum of Flight began in 1983, when local business leaders got together to discuss the idea of preserving aviation history of the Santa Maria Valley. Initially the museum opened as a gift shop in the terminal building of the Santa Maria Public Airport, the former Santa Maria Army Air Field. Some of the early aviation artifacts were acquired from the closing aerospace museum in the nearby city of Lompoc.
The museum soon outgrew its first location, and after a successful fundraising moved to a hangar erected on land leased from the airport. Soon after, Santa Maria Museum of Flight acquired another hangar that was built close by as a prop for Disney’s The Rocketeer movie. The building serves today as the main museum entrance and a gift shop. A 1929 Fleet Model 2 airplane is exhibited inside alongside many other artifacts including a replica of the Rocketeer costume and an RC scale model of the plane used in the Flight of The Phoenix movie starring Dennis Quaid.
When walking outside to a second hangar, visitors pass by a restored McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom II and a Douglas A-4L Skyhawk previously assigned to senator John McCain’s Attack Squadron VA-163, the Saints. They are accompanied on the ramp by a 1943 Stinson L-5 Sentinel and several homebuilt or kit aircraft including Rutan Quickie, Sonex and Bowers Fly Baby.
A static replica of the Hughes H-1 Racer is definitely a centerpiece of the second hangar. It was used in the famous movie The Aviator after the only flying replica crashed not far from the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone killing Jim Wright, the pilot and owner of the plane. A museum docent confirmed that Leonardo DiCaprio himself sat in that plane during the filming on the ground while another scale RC model was used for aerial shots. The original Hughes H-1 Racer is on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.
The second hangar also has a half-size Lockheed P-38 replica. The original owner, Walter Treadwill of Livermore, California, couldn’t afford to buy a Lighting so he decided in the early 90s to build a fully functional flying replica. The museum was very happy when the owner decided to donate it, as the Santa Maria Army Air Field was used to train P-38 pilots during the World War II.
Other aircraft exhibited in the second hangar include 1943 Stinson V77 Reliant, a British Folland Gnat F.1. and a RotorWay Exec 90 helicopter. It also displays the famous Norden Bombsight, Link trainer, a piece of the Challenger Space Shuttle and many other aviation memorabilia.