Class Notes Profile: Aviation Enthusiast

Paul Wood’s Warbird Heritage Foundation keeps antique planes airborne

“We have 16 historic airplanes, and all are fully operational,” says Paul Wood, a lifelong aviation buff and founder of the Warbird Heritage Foundation. WHF planes have flown with the Air Force’s Heritage Flight Program, the Navy’s Legacy Flight Program, and the Chicago Air and Water Show. (Image by Diane Smutny)
Paul Wood’s Warbird Heritage Foundation keeps antique planes airborne

Visit an air show, and you might see Paul R. Wood, ’76 BUS, waving from a WWI biplane or a Vietnam-era A-4 Skyhawk.

Wood is the founder and head of the Warbird Heritage Foundation, a Waukegan, Ill.–based nonprofit that restores, displays and flies antique military aircraft.

“I’ve been an aviation enthusiast since I was 6, building model airplanes,” Wood says. As a high school student in Springfield, Ill., he took a job as “an airport grease monkey,” washing and working on planes.

As a business major, Wood tried to enroll in aviation courses, but “the aviation and engineering students had priority, and I could never get in.” Instead, he became a high flyer in a different stratosphere, co-founding the Chicago investment firm Madison Dearborn Partners.

But while vacationing in Wisconsin, Wood went on a sightseeing flight and got “re-bitten by the aviation bug,” deciding to obtain his pilot’s license.

Finding it particularly fun to fly vintage military aircraft, Wood decided to buy one: a T-28 propeller-driven Navy trainer. “By 2003, I had acquired several warbirds; I decided to establish a museum and foundation and donate them,” he says.

“The U of I prepared me very well,” Wood says, noting that “the highlight of my four years was meeting my future wife, Corinne, in math class. She turned out to be the love of my life.” (The late Corinne Wood, ’76 LAS, served as Illinois Lieutenant Governor from 1999 to 2003.)

As an elected official, Corinne was committed to public service, and Paul feels that same commitment. He notes that his foundation provides “a way to not only honor veterans, but to show the public what it was like to fly these airplanes.”