At the intersection of Chouteau and Cardinal avenues, near downtown St. Louis, there is a curious sight. Sitting outside the Bissell Auto and Body Company is a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. And if you look behind it, you can see the hulks of numerous other airplanes and helicopters, in varying states of (in)completeness.
The airplanes on Chouteau Avenue near downtown St. Louis aren’t an airplane graveyard. They are the private collection of Dan Bissell, the owner of the garage whose lot they occupy.
The T-33 is probably his most complete airframe, though it’s nowhere near mint condition. It’s missing the canopy and part of its tail fin. But there’s a reason his planes look like they do.
Bissell owns dozens of aircraft, most of which he purchased as scrap from government surplus auctions. His collection was featured in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 28, 2017. At the time, he told the Post-Dispatch his hobby became more difficult after 9/11, because the government started doing a better job of dismantling planes when it scrapped them to keep sensitive technology from falling into the wrong hands.
Buying government surplus fighter jets
There was a big story in 1997 in the magazine US News and World Report about the hobby of buying military surplus and rebuilding it. The cover read, “How the US military is selling off high-tech arms to foreign agents and people like you.”
By “people like you,” they meant people more like Dan Bissell than you, probably. Not all of us have a lot where we can park a T-33, and HOAs tend to frown on things like that.
In addition to the T-33, he has parts of two F-106 Delta Darts flanking a Soviet MiG-23. Yes, he has even acquired Soviet planes. One MiG he has stored indoors still has a working ejection seat.
Buying surplus government planes used to not be a big deal. The main reason the Commemorative Air Force exists was because private citizens could buy surplus P-51 Mustangs and the like after World War II. The government removed the armaments, but sold the planes in flyable condition. But that practice ended in the jet age.
So that’s why none of Dan Bissell’s fighter jets fly.
Rumors about the planes
The collection is the source of constant rumors. The most popular one is that someone bought the planes to tinker on and went bankrupt, a modern version of the Wood-Smith Castle story. But unlike the Oakville castle, there’s no truth to that rumor. The owner isn’t bankrupt, the garage isn’t closed, and he hasn’t abandoned his collection. He even had to install security cameras to keep people from getting too close.
Dan Bissell has been buying planes and storing them on his property since the early 1990s. His father and grandfather were military pilots in World Wars I and II.
Bissell and his family hope to someday open a museum to display the collection. But in the meantime, it sits in an industrial area just outside downtown St. Louis, confusing passers-by.