Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

March 5, 2014

Building WWII history

Ohio museum volunteers building vintage war plane

URBANA, Ohio (AP) — They got one part for the World War II-era bomber from under an elderly woman's porch in the next town, and another was bought from someone who had it hanging in a bar in Colorado. One chunk was a prop in a 1960s TV show, and the tail section was salvaged from a wreck deep in the Alaska wilderness.

When dozens of volunteers are finished piecing them all together at a small Ohio museum, they're going to roll out a better-than-new, airworthy version of one of history's most famous military airplanes, the B-17, celebrated in Hollywood adventure movies like "Twelve O'Clock High" and "Memphis Belle."

A behemoth of a vintage plane that hasn't been manufactured new in nearly 70 years is being built one piece at time here — and when the volunteers can't buy or barter for parts they need, they're making them from scratch based on a collection of 28,000 original Boeing Co. blueprints fetched from microfiche at the Smithsonian Institution.

"Modesty aside — and I've been around airplanes as much as anybody here — I think we're building a better airplane than Boeing did," says volunteer Dick Bidlack, a 79-year-old Vietnam War fighter pilot who's been involved with the Champaign Aviation Museum project since it started in 2005. "But we're not trying to build 15 of them a day in a wartime scenario. We're taking years, so we have a little more freedom."

Although completion is still years away, the gleaming shell of the plane stretched out in the hangar these days is unmistakably a B-17, the rugged 74-foot-long, four-engine bomber called a "Flying Fortress" because it bristled with .50-caliber machine guns and could take an awful beating in combat.

Volunteer Frank Drain designed and painted the authentic-looking nose art, which features a leggy 1940s pinup girl against an outline of Ohio and the plane's Champaign Lady nickname.

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