Tillamook Air Museum's future is in... Madras?

TILLAMOOK, Ore. - One of Tillamook's most well-known attractions that draws in tens of thousands of visitors every year will be making a big move across the state.

We're talking about the Tillamook Air Museum - that huge WWII blimp hangar that houses a vintage aircraft collection owned by Erickson Group,. Ltd., along with U.S. Navy aircraft on loan to the Port of Tillamook Bay and a few donated planes.

Erickson, which leases the hangar that you can't miss when you're driving down Highway 101 in Tillamook, has decided to move their aircraft to Madras (a small town about 40 miles outside of Bend).

The company recently purchased an air-tanker operation at the Madras Municipal Airport and decided that Central Oregon's dry climate is a much better place to store the vintage aircraft they have had on display in Tillamook for years.

"I think moving the airplanes is a great thing because the climate over here (in Tillamook) is pretty harsh on the airplanes and the metals," Tillamook Air Museum's manager, Michael Oliver, said. "Over there in a drier climate you can preserve the airplanes a lot better."

Erickson is planning on building a new 65,000-square-foot hangar in Madras, in addition to the existing 22,000-square-foot hangar that's already there. That will give them more space for air tanker operations, but it will also give them plenty of room for a museum. Construction on the new hangar is scheduled to begin this summer.

So when can we expect the airplanes to leave the Tillamook Air Museum? There is no set date but Erickson's lease from the Port of Tillamook Bay does end in 2016.

Oliver said the Tillamook Air Museum gets around 65,000 to 70,000 visitors a year. That's certainly a lot of tourism going away and we asked him if he has gotten any feedback from the community. He said they did get quite a few comments on Facebook after they posted the press release with the announcement. Here are a few:

A lot easier to go to Tillamook than Madras...going to miss that place. - Dave Wiley

Now I'll have a reason to visit Madras a couple of times per year. I hope there will be a big celebration and photo op day with all the aircraft on display at once before they are flown to Madras. - Kurt Livermore

It's too bad. Those blimp hangers are such an important part of the history of Tillamook. My father helped build them. I really hope that the Port of Tillamook will some how protect it for the future. - Janie Bishop

That's very sad and upsetting. Not only for the people of Tillamook, but for those who came to see a piece of history in a magnificent building. Not to mention, I don't even know where Madras is. - Tammy Wilhite Bielas

Well that is a great big bummer for all of us coast people. I am sure the new facility will go way up in price.... any ideas what is going to happen to the hanger here in Tillamook? - Tom Thies

So use the hanger for something else. It is already being used for certain storage. Many other uses could be put in place! - Ray Vern Steele

There are around 30 aircraft in the hangar at the Tillamook Air Museum and Oliver said only the ones owned by Erickson will be moving to Madras. The others will be left behind.

We contacted the Port of Tillamook Bay, which just found out about Erickson's plans a few weeks ago, for some insight into what might become of the air museum hangar. As you can imagine, this is all fairly new to them and not much has been decided at this point.

Photo courtesy glenbledsoe on Flickr (Creative Commons).

"We will be working with the Erickson group on a transition, but we don't know what that will look like yet," Michele Bradley, general manager for the Port of Tillamook Bay, told us in an e-mail. "The Port of Tillamook Bay would be open to considering all options, which might include leasing it as a museum again."

"This is a great loss for Tillamook County," Bradley added. "It is a well-visited tourist stop."

As we mentioned, some of the airplanes at the museum are on loan to the Port of Tillamook Bay from the U.S. Navy and those will not be going to Madras. According to Bradley, they will either stay with the port or be returned to the U.S. Navy, a decision that will be determined at a later time.

Bradley told us that the Port of Tillamook Bay and legal counsel are reviewing Erickson's lease and plan to meet with the company to discuss how best to move forward.

In the meantime, things are already happening at the Madras Municipal Airport. Airport manager Rob Berg told us Erickson has been on site since November and he's hoping they'll be bringing their vintage aircraft there and opening the museum by 2014.

Berg said he sees this as a win-win for a number of reasons. Nearby Bend and the surrounding area already gets a lot of visitors and Berg said this will give folks one more attraction to see.

"It'll be not just for our town, but all of Central Oregon," he said.

Berg also believes it was a smart move on Erickson's part to move all of their operations to one place. And he said they could not have picked a better location for aircraft operations.

"Our weather over here is phenomenal compared to Tillamook," he said.

The airport in Madras is also the site of the second largest air show in the Northwest - The Airshow of the Cascades that's held every year in August - and Berg is excited that there will be another element to add to the event once the museum opens.

"It's kind of like a marriage made in heaven when you have an airshow and an air museum," he said.

Photo courtesy of the Airshow of the Cascades on Flickr.