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The Yankee Air Museum
Out of the Ashes
By: Steven Lewis

 

            On October 9, 2004 a devastating fire destroyed the Yankee Air Museum along with its’ Historic hanger. Many artifacts and mementos that could never be replaced were lost. Among the aircraft lost in the fire, a Ex-NASA YOV-10A Bronco that was used for rotary cylinder flap research, a flyable L-39 Albatros, Lockheed L-60 Lodestar under restoration, a very rare Waco CG-4A troop transport glider, and a Republic F-105B(57-5793) that had once flown with the USAF Thunderbirds. During that horrible event, members of the Museum managed to save the pride and joy of their Air Force. What is the Yankee Air Force and how did it come to be? The YAF contains 3 very special aircraft, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (C-47D), “Yankee Lady” (B-17G) and “Yankee Warrior” (B-25D), all calling Willow Run home. But it was not always that way. Each aircraft have its’ history on just how it became a part of the YAF and that history is what makes the Yankee Air Museum and their aircraft unique and this is their story.

 

            In 1981, The Yankee Air Museum was started by a small group of people that shared the common goal to preserve the aviation history in Michigan. One of their first goals was to get an original US Army Air Force hanger which would house their new Air Force. Only with the aid of Wayne County along with the owner of Willow Run was it possible to turn their first goal into reality. During World War II, Ford Motor Company built a factory at Willow Run to help the war efforts. The new factory building B-24 Liberators had the Worlds’ largest assembly line at that time. At its peak Willow Run rolled out one Liberator an hour. The B-24 goes down in history as the most produced allied heavy bomber. In all 18,482 Liberators were built of that 8,685 were built at Willow Run. It would be fitting if the new Yankee Air Museum based at Willow Run would somehow own a operate one of those Liberators. Of the 18,482 B-24’s produced, roughly 19 airframes remains today. Only 2 still flying and the rest belong to various museums around the world. Even with their dreams of having a Liberators crushed, the Yankee Air Museum continued their search for aircraft to add to their inventory.

 

           The first Aircraft to be added to Yankee Air’s inventory was a C-47 S/No# 44-76716. It was built in Oklahoma City, OK and was delivered to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) on April 11, 1945. Her 25 year career in the USAAF was pretty uneventful. As with many transport aircraft, she was assigned to a number of bases from Texas, California, and Arizona and to Michigan. How she come to belong to the Yankee Air Force is far more interesting.

 

           





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           After the first Willow Run airshow, the newly found Yankee Air Museum wanted to start adding aircraft to it. The first aircraft that caught their eye was a C-47 owned and operated by the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM, which is now Altarum Institute), which use it for aerial survey work. Denis Norton, the first President of the Yankee Air Museum and now the President of the Michigan Aerospace Foundation, found out that ERIM had not flown it for about two years and was going to offer Bob Rosenblum, The Vice President of ERIM, $30,000 (which the Yankee Air Museum did not have) to part with their aircraft. Needless to say the aircraft was not for sell and was needed for future surveys. Moreover, if it was for sell the price range would more like $100-$125,000; way above the price range of Yankee Air. During this time the Museum wanted a B-24 Liberator as a part of their collection. This task fell to Elmer Spencer and Lee Koepke. Dennis continued his search for a C-47 and found some he did. Some crashed, some crated, a few confiscated from drug runners and even one in India. Dennis got a call from a broker that heard of someone in Mexico knew that Yankee Air was looking for a C-47. After some cautionary investigation, The seller in Mexico had 3 Flyable C-47’s, crated up and want only $25,000 for all 3! Sounds too good to be true? Well, it turns out the aircraft was not even in Mexico and not crated. They were sittings in the middle of the Libyan Desert! Elmer and Lee were not having any luck with finding a B-24. They got wind of a Liberator in Bolivia and there was a DC-3 as well. After looking more in to it, the B-24 was a B-25 and the DC-3 was a Twin Beech!

             A few airframes came up in Canada and were used to haul oil well equipment. But this did not look promising being gutted and torn apart. On day out of the blue, Dennis got a letter from ERIM with news of their C-47 is for sell! “As is” with all the survey equipment - $120,000. Again, too much for Yankee Air and did not want the survey equipment. Again the Yankee Air offered $30,000 (still didn’t have). ERIM was not willing to sell it for that price. A week later the attorney for ERIM called and offered to sell the C-47 at a lower price but… it could be rented back to ERIM for future contract work. This time the price was , $75,000. Yankee Air had no problem with letting ERIM use it, but $75,000 was still out of Yankee airs price range. Willow Run was home to ERIM’s C-47 for many years and they didn’t want to see it leave the area. ERIM wanted Yankee Air to have the aircraft and they wanted it as well. All that was needed was to settle on a price which Yankee Air could afford and that ERIM could live with. Dennis offered $30,000(yeah, which did not have) and no more. After days of negotiating, the ERIM attorney finally approved the selling price of ERIM’s C-47 for $30,000.

            At the time, Yankee Air had no equity, no bank and only a few hundred members, Dennis told ERIM that Yankee air did not have the $30,000 yet. Both parties agreed on a $10,000 down payment in one month and the balance to be pay in one year. If not ERIM would extend that year until the balance was paid. “What a Deal! ERIM was really trying to help us out.” Dennis remarked. Now Yankee Air just had to come up with $10,000 in one month! Through various fund raiser, Yankee Air barely pooled together the 10 grand. On September 26, 1982 the check was handed over to ERIM’s Vice President Bob Rosenblum. A very proud day for the Yankee Air Museum, they now had a start to a small yet wonderful Air Force. In 1985, after an 18 month restoration, the newly named “Yankee Doodle Dandy” won “Best of Transport” at EAA Oshkosh.





                  “Yankee Lady”, a B-17G was the second aircraft to be added to the Yankee Air Museum inventory. She was purchased in 1986, soon after began a 5 year restoration and in 1995 was return to flying status. Built by Lockheed/Vega in Burbank California, B-17 S/No# 44-85829 was too last to enter World War two. She was place in storage at South Plain, Texas in September of 1945. In February 1946, she was assigned to the 4140th at Rome AFB in New York and again placed in storage. But in September 1946, she was transferred to the Coast Guard and received the BuNo# 77255. She was than sent to NAS Johnville down in Pennsylvania to be converted to one of 16 PB-1Gs. There all of her armament that was there to protect her was removed and she received a weapon to save lives, an A-1 Lifeboat. In the Coast Guard she was based in only two locations, first at CGAS San Francisco in California and than at NAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina where in May of 1959 her military career ended. She was then sold for $5,887.93 to Ace Smelting, Inc and got her new civilian registration as N3193G. But in November of 1959, she was sold to Fairchild Aerial Surveys in Los Angeles California. At the time, her airframe had a little over 4000 flight hours.



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           For the next few years she did aerial survey work. Than in October of 1965, she was sold to the Biegert Brothers of Philadelphia. There here survey equipment was removed and two tanks were placed in her bomb bay. With the Biegert Brothers, she was flown as a pesticide sprayer. Then she went to Aircraft Specialties Inc out of Mesa Arizona. She was then modified as an air tanker and flown as tanker C34. In 1969, she had her 15 minutes of fame. She was flown out to the beautiful islands of Hawaii to use in the WWII epic movie “Tora Tora Tora “. In 1985 Four B-17’s were to be auctioned off by what use to be Aircraft Specialties later change to Globe Air Inc. It was not until June 1986 when she was sold for $ 250,000 with nearly 6000 flight hours to the Yankee Air Museum. She was than flown to her new home at Willow Run Airport in Michigan. She did not fly again for another 9 years. 5 of them was a massive restoration and she got a new name, “Yankee Lady”. The name, nose art and other markings do not represent a former B-17, but are typical B-17G assigned to the 8th Air Force 381st Bomb Group, 534th Bomb Squadron.



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The last of the major Warbirds to be added to the Yankee Air Museum inventory was “Yankee Warrior” , one of only two still flying B-25D’s. B-25 S/No# 43-3634 was built in Kansas City, Kansas and was delivered to the USAAF on December 17, 1943. She was suppose to go to Royal Air Force by mean of lend lease program as KL148 in January of 1944, but was shipped out to Corsica to be added to the war affords. She was assigned to the 12th Air Force, 57th Bomber Wing, 340th Bomber Group, 489th Bomber Squadron, with the tail code 634 9C and was named “Ellen E. & Son”. “Ellen E. & Son” flew 7 combat missions over Sicily and through the Brenner Pass. With her brief combat career over, she was shipped back stateside and was soon handed over to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).



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 From October 1944 to January 1947, she was use to train B-24 Liberator crews. Then in late January 1947, she was then assigned to No# 418 Squadron “City of Edmonton”, a Transport and Rescue Squadron based out of Edmonton Municipal Airport. During the late 40’s the bulk of Canada's air defense was made up of reservists and 418 was no exception. But in 1950, she was place into storage until June of 1953 when she was brought back into service and was assigned to the Flying Instructor School at RCAF Trenton in Ontario. Some of Transport assigned to RCAF Trenton took part in the Korean airlift. It is not known if Yankee Airs’ Mitchell took part or not. Once again in 1954, she was placed back into storage until 1956. A mishap in March 1955, her glass nose was replace with a solid nose after her nose gear collapsed .In 1961 she was transferred from RCAF Trenton to Dunnville Ontario. Then in June 1962 she was sold Hicks and Lawrence Ltd in St. Thomas, Ontario. Six years later in 1968, she was sold again to Richard B. McPherson of Aerodix out of New Albany, Ohio. Less then one year later, she was sold again to Glen Lamont. In October 1969, Lamont flew her to Detroit City Airport and was registered as NX3774. Glen started a massive restoration which was completed in August 1976. With 1776.45 flight hours and new FAA certificate she with renamed “Gallant Warrior”. She then started her new weekend job, touring the country in the Airshow circuit. For nearly 10 years, Glen took great care of her and then in 1987, He sold her to the Yankee Air Museum and was renamed “Yankee Warrior”.





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So what’s the future of Yankee Air Museum? Like the Phoenix, It will rise out of the ashes and will be ever larger than before. Currently the Yankee Air Museum and the Michigan Aerospace Foundation has structured a 15 year reconstruction plan. This will include 9 separate phases. It will need some $45 million dollars to complete. Not only will the Museum and the Hanger be rebuilt, but Yankee Air hopes to add an Aviation theme restaurant, a conference center as well as a new restoration facility. The winter Yankee Air is expected to start construction on a temporary Visitor center which will eventually become the new library.  As of now, the new Yankee Air Museum is not due to start construction until 2009 at the soonest.

 

 

 

The Yankee Air Museum and the Michigan Aerospace Foundation would like to ask that anyone with an interest in helping to rebuild the museum, please contact the Foundation. Also, anyone who has artifacts they would be willing to donate to the museum should contact the Curator, Gayle Roberts. 

 

 

A help hotline can be reached at 734-483-4030.  If you receive a busy signal please keep trying.  The following people can be contacted to offer your support:

 

For the Museum, contact:

Yankee Air Museum President, Dick Stewart 734-637-8878

Yankee Air Museum Vice President, Jon Stevens 734-637-2117

Yankee Air Museum Curator, Gayle Roberts 734-637-8876 

 

For the Foundation, contact:

Michigan Aerospace Foundation President, Dennis Norton 734-971-2750

Michigan Aerospace Foundation Treasurer, Gary Brown 734-316-2216  

 

Donations may be sent directly to the Michigan Aerospace Foundation through its web site at http://www.michiganaerospace.org  or can be mailed to:

 

 

Yankee Air Museum Recovery Fund

P.O. Box 8282

Ann Arbor MI, 48107-8282

 

 

I  would like to thank the follow for helping me prepare this article.

Yankee Air Museum

Michigan Aerospace Foundation, Inc.

Dennis Norton            President Michigan Aerospace Foundation

Dick Stewart              President Yankee Air Museum

Tom Collard               Crew Chief for the C-47

Gary K. Brown            Secretary/Treasurer of Michigan Aerospace Foundation, Inc.

Gayle Roberts            Museum Curator Yankee Air Museum

            Bob Hynes                  Public Relations Yankee Air Museum
            Kerry Newstead         Canadian Editor World Airshow News
            Shawn Yost                Airshow Photographer
 

Links

Yankee Air Museum                          http://yankeeairmuseum.org/index.php

Michigan Aerospace Foundation    http://www.michiganaerospace.org       

Royal Canadian Air Force               http://www.rcaf.com

Warbird registry                                http://www.warbirdregistry.org

Thunder Over Michigan 2007          http://www.yankeeairmuseum.org/airshow/









 
©Steven Lewis/Far148studio