The man behind the Fighter Factory
is Gerald Yagen
, a 60-year-old businessman-educator with a deep love of aviation.He's president of Tidewater Tech, a group of schools offering associate degrees in nursing, electronics, computers and such vocations, and also of the Aviation Institute of Maintenance, a mechanics' school of which the Fighter Factory is a subsidiary.
"I consider myself a temporary custodian of this history," said Yagen
, talking in his
Virginia Beach office.The Virginia Tech grad bought his
first plane at age 25, a Piper Cherokee.About 10 years ago at a convention of Piper Aerostar owners in Canada, he
came upon an exhibit of old airplanes.
Seeing an old SNJ4, "I said, 'I've got to get me one like that, a fun airplane."' He
met a plane restorer who put him on to an old P-40 in Georgia.
called the Spitfire "the most enjoyable plane I've got."A cherished memory, he
said, is of flying that plane over the coast of southern England the same skies where those planes thwarted Adolf Hitler's invasion plans in the Battle of Britain.
How many planes does the Fighter Factory
have?With constant new acquisitions, planes away at air shows, and planes in various stages of assembly, even Yagen
can't give an exact answer.
I'm also getting a strong interest in World War I airplanes," Yagen
emphasized that the Virginia Beach Airport is not a museum, and is not intended as an exhibit for the public."We don't want to see tour buses pulling up," he
said.Even if he
had wanted to make the place a museum, "I don't know if I can do that.Zoning, and all that."
bought it, the airstrip had been used in recent years only by crop-dusting aircraft and planes towing ad banners.
said that an occasional visitor with a serious interest would be welcomed especially if he's
a veteran who flew one of the old warplanes.
"People come to see these planes and they get a tear in the eye," Yagen