Evergreen International Aviation has a curious history. It was long considered a CIA front, but the founder, Delford Smith would not “confirm or deny” this. However, the fact is several of the company’s senior executives either worked for the agency or had close ties to it. Smith founded the company as Evergreen Helicopters in 1960. Over 50 years the company expanded to operate in 168 countries as both a private and government contractor. Evergreen has been associated with numerous high-profile activities from movies to forest fire water delivery. Beginning in 2013 the $1 billion company began chapter 7 bankruptcy and the assets were sold. The last fleet aircraft were several 747 cargo carriers, one of which (N479EV) was converted to an aerial firefighting tanker which flew numerous firefighting missions, until 2017 when it was destroyed for salvage. The final aircraft of the fleet, the Global Supertanker, ceased operations in 2021 and was converted to a freighter.
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum opened with a few vintage aircraft in 1991 as a project of Delford Smith and his son, Michael who was an Air Force Captain and F-15 pilot.
When Disney decided to close the Spruce Goose (Hughes H-4 Hercules) exhibit in Long Beach, the Smiths proposed to build an aviation museum around the aircraft. Although Michael died in a 1995 automobile accident, the facility was completed by the end of 2001. The Spruce Goose arrived in 1993 and underwent 8 years of restoration.
With the Evergreen Aviation bankruptcy in 2013, museum ownership was transferred to the Michael King Smith Foundation, but has had an up and down life since. In 2016 the foundation followed Evergreen into bankruptcy, then was purchased by a company that was later closed by the SEC for securities fraud, and finally in 2020 by Bill Stoller, an Oregon winemaker. It took 2 years to sort out the legal and financial issues to facilitate Stoller’s purchase.
The museum is a beautiful facility with two facing exhibit halls and an Imax theater between them. The hall containing the Spruce Goose has several dozen vintage military and civil aircraft displayed under its wings.
The second hall is focused on drones, helicopters and space vehicles. Among the aircraft are an SR-71, a Titan II missile in a partial silo, and my two all-time favorite airplanes, the F-4 Phantom and A-10 Warthog.
Adjacent to the museum the Wings and Waves water park – I suspect the only one in the country with a 747 on the roof.
The museum staff are primarily volunteers with experience in the aircraft. It is well worth the $15 admission. While the museum buildings are excellent designs for the purpose, and the aircraft are well maintained and displayed, you can see the consequences of the financial problems in the tattered paint and damaged woodwork of the buildings. All could be fixed with a bit of maintenance.
For me, I was allowed to park overnight next to an F5D Skylancer awaiting restoration and a Saturn IV solid booster motor and shell.