Earlier this month, our very own Jim Jenkins had the pleasure of going back to Malvern, PA for the opportunity to experience the remarkable collection of antique aircraft and spares collected over the past 45 years by the late John Desmond. Mr. Desmond, founder of the colonial-inspired Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Albany, NY and another namesake hotel in Malvern, PA, had the foresight to know how rare and valuable these aircrafts would be in the future.
Barry Smith was a personal friend of Mr. Desmond’s for over 25 years and, through this friendship, the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Museum was to be the first to have an in-depth look at what Mr. Desmond collected over the years, after his passing in August, 2014. Mr. Desmond was 90 years old.
Jim had great insight to share with us after he arrived back from Malvern:
“Mr. Desmond’s taste in antique aircraft was fantastic to see to say the least – from the many different WACO models like the CTO, ASO, 10 with OX5’s to the ultra-rare and famous Pitcairn Mail wings. Included in the collection is one of the rarest, almost extinct machines, the last existing Kinner Playboy, a closed cabin, side by side, wire braced wing, and a heavy-fared and spatted landing gear looking like a machine that could have come off the famous Granville Gee Bee Brothers drafting table.”
Jim went on to talk about a rare Curtiss Fledgling Biplane in the collection that was powered by the infamous Curtiss Challenger 185 twin row 6-cylinder radial. “A very beautiful and accurately restored Travel Air 6000 eight place cabin roaring right out of the late ‘20s stood proudly next to one of my favorites, a Beech Staggerwing – that had been owned by Mr. Desmond for almost 40 years and previously restored close to 30 years ago,” Jim said.
Of course there were others that deserve mention, but the superstar of the wonderful fleet would have to be the last wooden Lockheed Vega 5B that Mr. Desmond and his crew completely reverse-engineered from the airplane they rescued from a flooded building in California years ago. “The Vega was American aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle’s personal mount for quite some years as it was owned by the Shell Oil Co,” Jim shared. “The re-manufactured aircraft sports the bright yellow and red Shell Oil color scheme the aircraft was delivered. This aircraft will be finished and flown before being sold and, from my point of view, it will be a lasting memorial and tribute to the wonderful Mr. John Desmond.”
To have the opportunity to look over the late Mr. Desmond’s aircraft collection was nothing short of amazing for someone like Jim. Desmond had the love and passion for these airplanes from a time when the country was in the grips of the great depression which forced many of these manufacturers out of business or onto much less profitable objects in order to stay afloat during this trying period.
“It amazes me that during this depression era so many beautiful and limited production aircrafts made their way into the fortunate hands of oil companies, well-healed individuals, and other companies that, at the time, actually used these aircraft as transportation for business,” stated Jim. “Most are gone today, but we should be grateful that they had the means to purchase some of these now very rare and beautiful machines.”
Jim commends Mr. Desmond for having the vision, passion, and tenacity to carry on with so many of his wonderful aircraft. He would be very pleased to know that his dedicated crew carried on trying to finish up a few of his rare and unique machines that were under restoration when Mr. Desmond passed away.
The North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Museum will hopefully, in a small way, try and keep a segment of this collection alive and flying! This will be addressed at a later date when the inventory of the late Mr. Desmond’s collection is complete and the aircraft and spares will be available to the aviation world.