Entrepreneur behind air museums in Wodonga and Wangaratta, Joe Drage, has died at the age of 86

High flyer: Joe Drage with his plane collection at Wangaratta's Airworld which was formed from his interest in aviation. He first opened a museum in Wodonga before relocating south in 1984.
High flyer: Joe Drage with his plane collection at Wangaratta's Airworld which was formed from his interest in aviation. He first opened a museum in Wodonga before relocating south in 1984.

THE man behind the North East’s greatest aviation museum and plane collection has died at the age of 86.

Joe Drage amassed an array of aircraft with 1920s and 1930s planes saved from destruction for display at his museums in Wodonga and Wangaratta.

Such was the prestige of the collection, Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen wanted it in his state, Mr Drage’s only son recalled yesterday.

“Joh Bjelke-Petersen offered him quite a substantial sum of money to move it to Queensland, but he wasn’t really about the money,” Tony Drage said.

“He was about the heritage and he wanted it to stay in the area where it started.

“They offered him millions but he wanted to keep it in Victoria and he was worried about the salt air damaging the planes.”

Born in Walwa, Joe Drage operated a timber mill and earthmoving business but his great passion was aviation.

After obtaining his pilot’s licence at the age of 19, Mr Drage later set about buying vintage aircraft that he feared would be sold overseas.

Past glory: Joe Drage tests out a set in a vintage plane that featured in his collection.

Past glory: Joe Drage tests out a set in a vintage plane that featured in his collection.

In November 1972 he opened the Drage Historical Aircraft Museum on land now occupied by Wodonga’s Victory Lutheran College.

It went from five to 21 planes by the time it closed when the land was compulsorily acquired by the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation.

The Wangaratta council bought the aircraft for about $2 million and opened Drage Airworld in 1984.

The cost of maintaining the collection became too much for the council which shut it in 2002.

The planes, including a Gypsy Moth, Avro Cadet and Dragon Rapide, were sold with Mr Drage having expressed his concern in 1995.

Big birds: The Drage Airworld collection as it appeared in 1998 at its hangar at Wangaratta airfield.

Big birds: The Drage Airworld collection as it appeared in 1998 at its hangar at Wangaratta airfield.

“It is one of the best collections of aircraft in the world and to see it split up would be a national tragedy,” Mr Drage said.

In later years, Mr Drage bred Belgian Blue cattle.

He died in Albury last Wednesday after having drug-induced dementia.

Mr Drage is survived by his wife of 61 years Margaret, four children and six grandchildren.

His farewell will be at Wodonga’s Conway Funeral Home on Thursday at 11am with a flyover to occur subject to weather.