EVERETT — The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum’s collection at Paine Field has reportedly been sold, according to a media outlet, and could be shipped to another location.
The museum’s three hangars have been closed since May 2020. The museum’s founder, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, died in 2018.
In a Facebook post, Air Classics magazine reports that the collection has been sold. The magazine promised further details in its June issue.
The Daily Herald has not been able to verify the report, which has been repeated by multiple news organizations. A representative at the museum said the executive director had no comment, and Seattle-based Vulcan Inc., the Allen family holding company which owns the museum, did not respond to a request for comment.
On its website, the Dutch Aviation Society reported that the Flying Heritage collection has been sold to Steuart Walton, an aviator and grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton. Steuart Walton is based in Bentonville, Arkansas.
But again, The Herald has not been able to confirm the report. Steuart Walton did not immediately respond to email inquiries.
If reports of the sale are true, the museum collection’s departure would be a blow to the region’s aviation enthusiasts, who treasure the assembly of World War II and Cold War aircraft, vintage tanks, motorcycles, military vehicles, combat armor and peculiarities of war.
Allen began collecting planes and other military artifacts in the 1990s. The collection of 71 planes and vehicles from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union is unique in that most of the planes can fly and most of the tanks can be driven. The restoration staff “strives to make the operations and appearance as original as possible to the time when the aircraft, tank or other machine was first utilized,” according to the museum’s website.
The collection opened to the public in 2004 at an Arlington Municipal Airport location. Four years later, it moved to Paine Field, where it’s housed in three hangars at 3407 109th St. SW.
On Tuesday, a sandwich board outside the museum’s entrance read, “The Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum is closed today.” It’s been that that way for almost two years. In 2020, the Friends of Flying Heritage, the nonprofit that operates the museum, suspended operations due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Inside the museum, a handful of people could be seen through the glass doors of the main entrance. A man who opened the door and was asked about the collection’s status said he would get Adrian Hunt, the museum’s executive director. A few minutes later the man returned to say that Hunt could not comment.
John Sekulich, a Bothell resident, has been taking his son, Charlie, now 16, to the museum since it moved to Paine Field from Arlington in 2008.
“I’ve been an aviation geek for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of time there,” said Sekulich, who’s taken his son to museum-sponsored events like Tank Fest Northwest and airplane shows.
“This is one of our Father’s Day traditions,” Sekulich said. “If this is true,” he said of the reported sale, “it would be a huge loss for the community.”
Sekulich said the museum’s closing would be devastating to local parents and schools. “We talk about STEM education for kids and getting them interested in science and aviation — if we don’t have a spot to get these kids introduced to these things, then what?”
The collection includes World War II-era Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a German Opel Super 6 staff car — the frequent target of Allied fighter bomber pilots because its occupants were often high-ranking German military officers. A mock-up of the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, Little Boy and Fat Man, is a reminder of the dawn of the atomic age and was part of the “Why War: The Causes of Conflict” exhibit.
The museum recently sold its operational, fully restored MiG-29. Allen acquired the two-seat Soviet-era fighter jet in 2005.
Allen, 65, died in October 2018 from complications of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He left behind a vast estate that includes property, artwork and venture capital investments, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers. That year, Forbes estimated his net worth at more than $20 billion.
Allen left his mark on the region through an array of cultural and philanthropic projects, among them the Flying Heritage museum.
Allen wasn’t married and had no children. His sister, Jody Allen, was named executor and trustee of his estate.
According to the non-profit Walton Family Foundation, Steuart Walton is the co-founder of Runway Group, a Bentonville, Arkansas, holding company that invests in real estate, hospitality and other businesses in northwest Arkansas.
He is also the chairman and founder of Game Composites in Bentonville, which designs and builds small composite aircraft. Walton serves on the boards of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton, Sam Walton’s daughter.
Walton reportedly owns several vintage airplanes.
In 2020, Walton led a fleet of World War II-era military aircraft on a statewide flyover of Arkansas to “honor frontline heroes in the fight against COVID-19,” according to a news release.