Most people in the Warbird industry either know Jay Wisler’s name, or have worked with him personally. He is truly a legend in the community, and his dedication to “keep ‘em flying” along with his huge parts inventory has helped countless individuals and projects over the years. If you’ve been wondering where all his parts went after he “retired”, read on!
Back in early August of this year several of us at AirCorps took the day and flew down to Granite Falls, Minnesota to visit the Fagen Fighters Museum and restoration shop. Ron and Diane Fagen founded the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in 2012. Ron and Diane’s son Evan, is soon to be in charge of what is called Fagen Fighters Restoration (FFR) which was founded in 1998. In addition to their top notch restoration work, FFR has also acquired Jay Wisler’s entire parts inventory. For a little more about Jay – and his contributions to AirCorps Library – see another one of my blogs called “Getting Them Live”.
I also can’t go any further without saying a few words about one of Fagen’s employees, Anna McCosh, who is interviewed below and helped me gather content and write this blog. Anna has been working with Fagen’s since the summer of 2019, but in that short time she has not only gotten her pilots license, but has also become invaluable to the work that is being done on Jay’s collection in Granite Falls. Anna is sorting parts and components, taking inventory, and learning exactly why it took Jay a lifetime to amass this collection.
While Anna has not (yet) met Jay in person, she has clearly caught the Warbird bug, saying “As a young woman entering not only the [warbird] industry, but the work field as a whole, I am motivated by Jay’s passion. That passion and intelligence was his driving force to preserve history.”
During our visit to Fagens, I got to sit down with Anna and talk about not only Jay’s collection, but Warbird parts in general, engineering drawings, and technical manuals. Everyone loves to see a young passionate person get hooked into the Warbird world, and this exactly what has happened. Anna is truly a rising star, and asset to Fagen’s – if you don’t know her name now, you will soon!
What follows is Anna’s answers to my questions related to her work, Jay’s collection, and Fagen’s plans for the collection.
Ester: Can you talk a little about Jay’s connection to Fagen Fighters?
Anna: Just like a lot of people in the industry, Fagen Fighters Restoration (FFR) knew Jay from doing business with him. Jay knows his stuff and was almost always able to provide us with the necessary parts or information we needed to get the [restoration] job done. As we did business with him, we grew a relationship with him. FFR continues to respect Jay’s expertise and will always value what he has done for the warbird community.
Ester: How and when did Fagen’s acquire Jay’s collection?
Anna: Jay had shared with Ron Fagen and Fagen Fighters his wish to retire, and his hope that someone just as passionate about warbirds might take on his collection to carry out what he started. Fagen Fighters is passionate about warbirds, getting them in the sky, and upholding the legacy of the men and women that flew and built them. We are committed to the restoration of these significant planes and the meaning each one holds. In addition to restoring aircraft ourselves, and the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum, FFR saw acquiring Jay’s inventory as a great opportunity to serve the warbird industry even further by preserving and distributing parts.
In 2017 we purchased Jay’s extensive collection, and in the fall of that same year, we began the process of inventorying all the parts and packing them up (doing our best to organize as we went). After that, the collection was moved from Tampa, Florida to Granite Falls, Minnesota, where it is now permanently housed. The purchase of this extensive inventory has given us an important role and responsibility, and we are honored to serve the industry in this way. We are passionate and eager to not only distribute parts, but to help others accomplish their restoration goals.
Ester: Tell me a bit about what is actually in Jay’s collection
Anna: We have a lot! Let me tell you, diving into such an extensive collection was a bit overwhelming at first, and still can be. But honestly, that is the exciting part because as I am learning more and more about the parts and the organizational systems behind them. The deeper we get, the more I realize the true treasure we have, and the huge opportunity we have to make an impact in helping restore such rich and meaningful planes and their history.
More specifically, we have a large selection of propellers and propeller components – blades, hubs, domes, nuts, bolts, seals, cams, governors, rings… and the list goes on! We have engines and engine accessories, brake assemblies and brake components, electrical components such as switches, lights, wiring, etc. We have tons of hardware. We have instruments such as airspeed indicators, fuel and oil gauges, clocks, manifold pressure gauges, amp meters, and more! We also have miscellaneous radios and radio components. Additionally, we have personal equipment that includes oxygen tanks, oxygen masks and hoses, goggles, life vests, and books/manuals. This is truly just a snippet. We have a lot of hidden gems, and are doing our best to go through it all and develop the most efficient system to get people what they need.
Ester: As someone like myself, who came into the Warbird world without prior aviation experience, what has it been like taking on a project like this?
Anna: I love my role! I get the great privilege to serve people in the warbird community every single day. Honestly, that is how we at Fagen’s view our role in this community- serving others. Specifically, I get to help organize, market and manage our inventory. We are continually working on it, in an effort to best serve our customers – our partners in this community!
I also collaborate and communicate with customers. This aspect is my favorite part about my job – getting to meet amazing, intelligent, and selfless people who are so passionate about restoring these planes. I love learning from our customers, taking requests for parts, and doing my best to get people what they need! I know I have a lot to learn, but I have a great role model and mentor in Evan Fagen. I love growing, I love flying, and I love this industry’s mission!
Ester: What’s next for Fagen Fighters and Jay’s collection?
Anna: FFR’s mission is to continue the restoration of warbirds and to get them in the sky, thereby preserving history. History itself is valuable in many ways, but it becomes a treasure when it is shared generationally, passing down the lessons learned, and instilling a depth of understanding through the people that lived its story. The vision for FFR began, though he didn’t know it, with Ray Fagen, who was a WWII Veteran. Ray’s son Ron put into motion all the moving parts that we know today as Fagen Fighters, and has established a phenomenal team of experts to see the vision through.
Ron and Evan have been working together to prepare for the next generation, and upon the completion of the SB2C-5 Helldiver restoration, Evan will take over FFR. Under Evan’s leadership and guidance, our team is looking forward to ensuring that every future generation will deeply value and treasure the experience of seeing Warbirds in flight. To this end our team is committed to making sure that the Warbird industry has the parts required for restoration projects. It is our goal to work together to share this rich aviation history with coming generations.
Ester: Can people see what you have inventoried in in Jay’s collection so far, or can they contact you with questions?
Anna: Absolutely! We are working to keep our website updated with what is currently inventoried in the collection. Of course, the site is a work in progress and right now reflects only a small portion of what we have in stock. But, if anyone has something they are specifically looking for, they can contact us either through the website, or by calling us directly. The email address email@example.com goes directly to myself and Evan, or people can call us on the office phone (320-5464-5105) or contact me directly on my cell (320-435-0514).
I would like to say a special thank you to Evan Fagen and Anna McCosh for collaborating with me on this blog. Fagen Fighters is an outstanding organization, and if you are ever in southern Minnesota, stopping at the museum is a must. FFR’s mission statement: “Collaborating with others to provide parts and services in order to preserve and restore the legacy of the greatest generation” shows their commitment to sharing this impressive inventory with the Warbird community, and their dedication to keep ’em flying.
Fagen Fighters Restoration Contact Information:
Office Phone: 320-564-5105
Cell Phone: 320-435-0514