The Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum at Kissimmee Municipal Airport was always one of our favourite attractions in Orlando.
There was something magical about walking through the workshops where pieces of battered and crumpled metal that had been rescued from swamps and jungles around the world were being lovingly restored once more into beautiful flying machines.
Not only could you see, but you could also smell and touch the exhibits.
The Flying Tigers Museum in Kissimmee has closed and has moved to Douglas in Georgia following severe damage from Hurricane Charley
On each trip there was an air of anticipation to see how work had progressed since the previous trip.
Whereas the workshops of places like Fantasy of Flight are spotlessly clean, at the Flying Tigers Museum, everything appeared to be haphazard but the end result was just as professional. Tom Reilly talked about there being "Bomber Blood" (red hydraulic fluid) on the floor and if you were very lucky you might get to take some home with you on the soles of your feet!.
Opened in 1988, the museum took its name of Flying Tigers from the Curtis P-40 Warhawks that flew against the Japanese in China.
Unfortunately like the Weeks Air Museum in Miami during Hurricane Andrew, the Flying Tigers museum was badly damaged by Hurricane Charley on Friday August 13, 2004 and closed in 2005.
Tom Reilly upped sticks and moved the entire operation to Georgia. Over the years, hurricanes have caused untold damage to the aircraft museums of Florida.
Whilst based at Kissimmee airport, the restoration workshops rebuilt around 27 World War II aircraft to flying condition including bombers like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, Douglas A-26 Invader and North American B-25 Mitchell and fighters like the Curtis P-40 Warhawk, North American P-51 Mustang, Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Vought F4U-4 Corsair.
All in all, they restored 9 Mitchell bombers and the workshops earned the nickname "Bombertown USA". One of the longest restorations has to be that of the B-17 Flying Fortress "Liberty Belle" owned by the Liberty Foundation which took 14 years to complete.
Amongst the static aircraft on display were aircraft from the early days right up to the Vietnam era including a Russian MIG-21MF, Piasecki HUP Retriever helicopter, North American F100-D Super Sabre, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, LTV A-7 Corsair II and Northrop F-101A Voodoo.
Flyable aircraft included a North American B-25J Mitchell, North American T-6G, Douglas C-47, De Havilland DH100 Vampire, Fouga Magister, Grumman C-1 Trader and S-2 Tracker.
Tom Reilly's Restoration School
They used to run a 5 day Tom Reilly's Restoration School where you could get your hands dirty whilst learning the trade; everything from hydraulics and brakes, control systems, propellors, electrical systems and radios, sheet metal fabrication and welding, wood and fabric techniques and engines and fuel systems.
Warbird flights in North American T-6 Texans are still available from the site next to the old museum hangar.
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