Scanning the skies above the Oregon Coast during World War II, you were likely to spy a blimp overhead. Eight of these massive K-Series airships were stationed at Tillamook Bay to patrol the Pacific Northwest after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Today the decommissioned Tillamook Naval Air Station — which includes 35 of its original 70 buildings — is the site of Tillamook Air Museum, housed within an immense blimp hangar that is the largest clear span wooden structure in the world.
World War II history comes alive here with 12 planes on loan from the U.S. Navy, as well as exhibits of rare wartime and aviation artifacts, such as medals, gear, photos, uniforms and first-hand documentation from the era. Children (and some adults!) will enjoy climbing into the cockpits of fighter and transport planes that once soared the skies.
Exhibits in the Engine Room display airplane engines from the 1920s through the 1950s — the glory days of aviation — and the Helium Room showcases wartime equipment, tools and machinery used to deliver helium to the eight blimps stationed at Tillamook; these K-Series blimps carried crews of up to 10 people and were used for extended flight operations in coastal patrols. A new exhibit on the Hindenburg includes a small replica of that ill-fated zeppelin.
But the star of the show is the building called Hangar B. At 1,072 feet long, 15 stories high and 296 feet wide, the gargantuan building spans more than seven acres. To get an idea of how big that is, it could easily hold seven football fields. Construction required more than two million board feet of lumber, most of it from Oregon, with 50 different lumber companies supplying the wood needed. An exhibit outlines fascinating details of the construction of the two hangars built here. Hangar B was completed in August of 1943; Hangar A, destroyed in a 1992 fire, was completed in only 27 working days. Historic photos and interpretive panels illustrate the massive scale of the project.
Summer is the perfect time to explore this historic gem, with several special events lined up. On June 21, Father’s Day, the museum will offer free admission to dads, and August 22 will see the Northwest Classics Annual Fly-In and Cruise-In, featuring vintage cars and planes. A new kids’ climbing play area with a boat, plane and train will open in June.
On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at 11 a.m., a guide in vintage Navy attire leads behind-the-scenes tours of hangar storage areas, underground tunnels and boiler rooms. (Advance registration is required.) A new exhibition telling the story of a WWII SB2C Helldiver bomber discovered nearby in 2010 and its doomed pilot, Robert Smedley, is scheduled to open later this summer.
Round out your visit to the Tillamook Air Museum with a Blimp Dog or Hangar B Burger at the museum’s retro Air Base Café, or stop in for cheese and ice cream tastings and a self-guided tour of the nearby Tillamook Cheese Factory.
Photo by Justin Bailie