Legend has it that if you look at satellite photos of the Sheridan County Airport in Sheridan, Wyoming, you can still see the outline of the “Big Oily Beast.”
For three years, the Twin Beech C-45J World War II-era naval plane had been sitting on the airport’s runway, leaking oil, waiting for an engine and pining for a second chance at new life.
Around the same time — 1,000 miles away in Howard County — Steve Stants and the rest of the members of the Warbird Training Center were looking for their next restoration project.
And they found one in “B.O.B.”
“We made a trip out to Wyoming to see if the plane was something we wanted to take on,” Stants said. “But the thing that really got us is that we went over the whole airplane when we were out there, and you expect a plane this old to go through a lot of repairs. … We looked for corrosion, and there was very little. That kind of blew us away.”
But even though the bones of the aircraft looked decent, Stants said there was still the challenge of repairing the plane to make it airworthy enough to fly back to Indiana, where it would then undergo the rest of the restoration process.
“The hardest thing for us was that we had to replace an engine while it was sitting out on the ramp [in Wyoming],” Stants said. “Here, we have all our own equipment, but there, we had to figure out somehow how to get the engine in the right place. And the control surfaces are all fabric that had been sitting outside for multiple years.
“So there we were, putting duct tape on all those spots. And we had these old-timers out there coming up to us who didn’t know us at all and thought we were just a bunch of Hoosier boys,” he continued laughing. “They said, ‘you’re going to actually fly that thing?’ But what we did is find a friend of ours who is one of the most capable pilots in an airplane like this, and he deemed it was good. He was the one that flew it back home.”
And for roughly the past three years, the plane has set inside a hangar at the Kokomo Municipal Airport, where it’s been meticulously restored piece by piece to what mechanic John Tharp referred to as a “living piece of history.”
“It’s first important to find out about the basic condition of the aircraft,” Tharp said. “Once you know that, you can then go and figure out the immediate needs and the things you can work on as you go. We have already redone all the flight controls, the rudders and the stabilizer because those primary structures were starting to deteriorate. And then we rebuilt the gear and restored the whole gear area. We also redid the wiring above the instrument panel.”
After all, the goal is not to just have the aircraft sit in the hangar like a statue, Stants and Tharp said.
An airplane needs to fly.
“A lot of times, these types of planes wind up in museums somewhere, and that’s fine,” Stants said. “But the Greatest Generation flew in planes like this, and to me, it’s important to see this up and flying again.”
That also means getting the aircraft up to FAA safety regulations so that it can one day offer public rides during air shows, like the B-17G Aluminum Overcast did during a recent stop at KMA in August.
“I want to give a lot of veterans rides in something like this, and I want kids to be able to see what it’s all about,” Stants said. “There are plenty of aircraft out there like this, but this particular one, we want to see it in all its glory when it finally takes to the sky.”
Hopefully that moment isn’t too far away either, Stants noted, as both Tharp and he hope the airplane will be able to undergo some test runs in the next few weeks.
And when that time comes, Stants said, the rest of the world will be able to see “B.O.B.” the way it was always meant to be seen.
“This is a WWII airplane,” he said. “When you touch the skins on this one, you’re touching 1940-something. This is the actual material. A lot of the restorations have new materials, but this one doesn’t. So when you touch this, you’re actually feeling a part of history.”