He flew his very first solo flight at age 14 in 1935. By 16 he was a certified pilot and by 20 he enrolled in the Army Air Corps just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. There he flew (of course) and he also studied high-altitude pilots’ breathing problems, a field of study that later helped him invent the Bird Universal Respirator which went on to save the lives of thousands of people with breathing problems.
Dr. Forrest M. Bird was a lover of aviation and a renaissance man whose brilliant mind invented dozens of cardiopulmonary medical devices; those are the gadgets that help you breathe when for some medical reason you can’t.
A walk through the museum that bears his name feels like a peek inside his incredibly curious, creative and innovative mind.
Dr. Bird lived and ran his business - The Percussionaire Corporation - on a large farm by Lake Pend Oreille and in 2007 he opened the Bird Aviation and Invention Center in Sagle, Idaho.
Last year, the Bird Aviation Museum moved to a large hangar just off the tarmac at Pappy Boyington Field aka the Coeur d’Alene Airport.
The museum is crammed full of vintage planes – including a 1947 amphibious Sea Bee and a 1936 Piper J2 Cub.
It also has an area dedicated to NASA including Sandpoint astronaut John Phillips. Military displays honor the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black and Caribbean-born pilots who fought in World War II, and there is a Women of Courage display honoring women who served, often unrecognized, in WWII.
A separate room pays tribute to the trailblazing inventors of the past who came up with everyday things we take for granted today.
Like Steve Wozniak who invented the first home computer and is often quoted saying you should never trust a computer you can’t throw out the window.
Several display cases hold many of Dr. Bird’s medical inventions including the “Baby Bird” the very first mass-produced pediatric respirator, which began saving the lives of thousands and thousands of babies with breathing problems back in the 1950s.
Remarkably, Dr. Bird didn’t get his formal degrees until the 1970s. He was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2009. He died at 94-years-old in 2015.
The Bird Aviation and Invention Center is located at 2678 W. Cessna Drive, in Hayden, Idaho. Hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. A sign on the gate says to check in at the airport office – you don’t have to do so to visit the museum.
Groups and events are welcome – please call: (208)758-8355.