If you’re familiar with Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, then you may also know its tagline is “the museum that runs.” Founder Dale Walksler tried his best to live up to that tagline, and his son Matt does the same now that he carries the reins. I mean, what could be cooler than having a transportation museum where you know just about everything could fire right up on command?
Since the early-to-mid 1990s, the Museum has held a particular one-of-a-kind custom-built plane. It’s powered by a Harley-Davidson J-series engine and was built by a guy who was about 20 years old at the time, all the way back in 1927. As the story goes, he won a contest with his blueprints for its design, snagging himself a $100 prize in the process. For reference, that’s roughly equivalent to a cool $1,630 in 2022 money. That sounds pretty sweet for an amateur builder!
At any rate, Dale Walksler acquired this plane for the museum, but it doesn’t seem like he did get it up and running. It sat proudly on display in the museum until one day in March, 2022, when Matt Walksler decided it was high time to see if this bird could, in fact, fly. Would this bird soar like an eagle, or be flightless like a kakapo?
Since it’s Wheels Through Time and not Wings Through Time, you can find plenty of amazed and yet horrified commenters over in the YouTube comments. Some comment on the team’s hand prop techniques, while another added that the carburetor being mounted below the engine (instead of above) was standard on planes like this, just to help reduce fire risk in flight. Another commenter talked about the lack of brakes in planes at the time—to which we wondered, if people didn’t need brakes on motorcycles, why on earth would you need them in a plane?
All joking aside, it’s an instant reminder of how far we’ve come—both in terms of motorcycle development, and in terms of airplane development. Still, it’s incredibly cool to get to see something like this end up in exactly the hands it should, instead of left to deteriorate in a field or junkyard somewhere. Will it fly? We’re not going to ruin the surprise for you, so check this video out next time you have 20 minutes to spare. Take a break, we’re not your boss.