The Des Plaines History Center is happy to announce that a unique piece of Des Plaines aviation is now on display. Visitors can see the salvaged cockpit of a historic C-54 plane that was built in the Des Plaines area during World War II at the Chicago Douglas Aircraft plant. Financed through a war bond fundraising drive organized by Maine Township High School students, this C-54 was called Maine Flyer. Pieces from the Maine Flyer cockpit are featured in part of the exhibit “Des Plaines Takes Flight: Aviation, Aviators and Airports in Our Area.” This will be on
display through 2021. Admission to the History Center and its exhibits is free, although donations
are always appreciated, and the History Center is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from
10am-5pm, and from 1pm-4pm on Sundays.
The Maine Flyer was built during World War II at Douglas Aircraft’s Chicago plant, located southwest of Higgins and Mannheim (the site of today’s O’Hare Airport). Maine Township High
School students raised $551,000 in war bonds over two weeks in December 1944 to fund a C-54 at the Chicago Douglas plant. To honor their fundraising achievement, Douglas gave the students
naming rights for the plane. They chose the name Maine Flyer. The Maine Flyer was flown by the Navy as a medical air evacuation plane during the final months of World War II. Until recently,
little was known about the Maine Flyer’s history after World War II. Inspired by the story of the
Maine Flyer, Len Johnson of Park Ridge spent several years researching the plane’s post-World
War II history. He discovered that the plane was housed on an abandoned airfield on a Native American reservation in Arizona. In the summer of 2019, Johnson salvaged several pieces from
the historic plane including the cockpit’s, instrument panel, steering yolk, and pilot’s seat.
Johnson recently loaned these pieces to the History Center as part of the new exhibit on local
aviation, “Des Plaines Takes Flight.”
Curator of Collections Siobhan Heraty explains the importance of these artifacts: “The Maine Flyer is an inspiring story that illustrates the positive impact that students can have on their community. In only two weeks, these high school students raised over half a million dollars (in 1944 dollars) and made a tangible contribution to the war effort through the financing of a C-54 plane. Having part of the actual plane in the exhibit creates an incredible connection to Des Plaines’ long history of local aviation, and it really makes history come alive. We’re really grateful to Len Johnson for meticulously researching, tracking down, and recovering the Flyer, as well as graciously sharing these pieces of the plane with us.”
The Des Plaines History Center is supported by the City of Des Plaines, the Des Plaines Park
District, its members, and other local business and community contributors. All members of the
public are welcome to attend this exhibit meant to invite public participation and discussion on a
broad range of historical topics per the History Center’s mission. For more information, call 847-
391-5399 or visit www.desplaineshistory.org.