Bravo Zulu: A Love of Flight and A Life Long Calling

Jerry Yagen flying the Fokker Dr.I

On May 29th , Memorial Day, millions of Americans will ignore the mattress and car dealer sales and instead reflect and give thanks for those who served and died for our freedoms. For anyone lucky enough to live near Virginia Beach, a visit to the Military Aviation Museum (MAM) will inspire a visceral sense of wonder and awe for the courage and skills of the veterans who flew these airplanes. Some, like the P51 Mustang with its 1500 horsepower V12 engine look potent and menacing, others, like the wood and canvas Thomas Morse Scout, all 1,300 pounds and 80 horsepower, look quite flimsy and vulnerable. Then you remember: bigger, faster, and better armed warplanes from Germany and Japan were firing machine guns at them.

The MAM is the life’s work of Jerry Yagen, an American patriot who has made it his mission to find, restore and preserve the history of the military aircraft from World War I and II, and honor those who flew them. The MAM is the largest private warplane collection in the United States.

To help bring the stories and history behind these fierce machines, Jerry wrote Bravo Zulu: My Search to Save Classic Warbirds (Silicon Valley Press, 2022). In this book, Jerry showcases 19 of his planes, detailing their specs, armament, the role they played in war, and how he acquired them. These beautifully restored planes—some of the most important historic aircraft in military history—are all flight-ready and take part in air shows.

One of the planes in Jerry’s collection is the Fokker Dr.I, also known as the Fokker Triplane, a replica of those flown by Captain Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron. This legendary aircraft is instantly recognizable by its bright red color and distinctive tri-wing design. Jerry’s dedication to preserving these historic planes is evident in the care and attention to detail that has gone into the recreation of this aircraft. In fact, Bravo Zulu’s cover includes a photo of Jerry flying this iconic triplane.

The best-known fighter in Jerry’s fleet is the North American P-51D Mustang which played a pivotal role in WWII. Initially designed for the Royal Air Force (in 120 days!), its original engine was swapped for a Rolls-Royce Merlin making the Mustang the power the Allies needed.

But Jerry’s work isn’t just about preserving history—it’s also about honoring and acknowledging those brave men who flew these planes. For example, the Supermarine Spitfire, piloted by many heroic airmen, is considered by some to be the plane that saved the world.

The one-of-a-kind P-51 Mustang, dubbed ‘Old Crow,’ was flown by Colonel Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson. With 116 missions and 17 kills, Bud is a WWII Triple Ace and at 100-years-old he is the oldest surviving one. Having graciously written the foreword for Bravo Zulu, his story puts the reader in the cockpit and in the dogfights with him as he reflects on how “ … warfare provides urgency for human ingenuity and invention.”

It’s clear to us that Jerry’s collection is much more than just a bunch of old planes—they serve as a tribute. As we celebrate Memorial Day and give thanks to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we can also take a moment to appreciate Jerry’s dedication to preserving these important pieces of history.

So, we want to give a big Bravo Zulu (well done!) to Jerry Yagen for his dedication to preserving these military aircraft and honoring the brave people who flew them. We are grateful to him for reminding us of the sacrifices made by those who have served.

Please pick up your copy of Bravo Zulu, a magnificent coffee table book wherever you buy books. And if you are thinking of where to go with your family this summer, plan a trip to the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, VA. You will never regret it or forget it.