That’s right, the Champaign Aviation Museum is restoring one of the only remaining B-17 bombers and they need all the hands they can get. That includes yours. We went to check out the place and “help” the cause…
The Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, OH is in heart of American aviation, just 45 minutes or so north of Wright Patterson Air Force Base & the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and just a few minutes further from the Wright Brother’s old stomping grounds. It seems fitting that such an ambitious and historically important aviation project like restoring a WII B-17 bomber would happen here.
As you can imagine, restoring a WWII B-17 several decades after the war ended is a really daunting task. The machinery used to mass produce wartime aircraft is not readily available so much of what was done on assembly lines by Rosie the Riveter has to be done by hand by Valerie the Volunteer, and some stuff you just can’t “remake” from the original blueprints… Sometimes it’s better to patiently wait and scour the globe for useable wreckage. Sound like an easy project? Yeah, restoring a B-17 is not. That’s why it’s taken nearly 10 years! We had to see what it was like to work on such a crazy project…
We arrived just before lunch one Saturday and found a few tourists bumbling around and a handful of volunteers working on everything from guns to wings to engine cowlings. As we all exchanged greetings and toured the workshop, it became obvious this was a labor of love for these volunteers, many spending nearly all their free time figuring out how to restore this mammoth airplane.
They’d come a long way… The “Champaign Lady” as she’s called, was definitely identifiable as a B-17, not just some mess of parts. The fuselage, wings, and guns were all coming along nicely, but they assured me, there was a long way to go. With this sort of project, a small part can take 6 months to fabricate, and there’s just no way around it.
As luck would have it, they have scored some major pieces from wreckage scattered across the world including under porches and in the brush of Alaska. (By the way, if you have a hunk of B-17 under your freaking porch like one family did, they’d LOVE to know about it…)
When I asked them about what sort of training the volunteers needed, the men all laughed at me. While some had aviation and engineering backgrounds, they assured me they’d take anyone that wanted to turn a wrench for this project, even if it was just for a single Saturday morning. So there you have it… You now know where you can go to say you helped work on a piece of WWII aviation history.
Why should you go spend some time wrenching on a B-17? Well, one of the bonuses of volunteering is exposure to multiple WWII veterans that are involved in the project. While this brave generation continues to dwindle, our opportunities to hear their stories of courage and sacrifice first-hand grow fewer every day. Not only are veterans involved in the restoration, the project has become a rallying point for other veterans so you’re likely to meet several on any given visit to the museum.
With less than a dozen B-17s still flying today, the “Champaign Lady” hopes to join an elite fraternity that brings the amazingness of the B-17 to small airfield and big air shows around the world.
Not only will she join the group of flying B-17s, but she’ll also be part of the Champaign Aviation Museum’s fleet of flying history… They already have an airworthy B-25 dubbed “Champaign Gal,” and a flying Stinson 10A.
The B-25 may not have the same name recognition as the B-17, but seeing the Champaign Gal is seeing a plane that helped win the War in the Pacific:
The B-25 first gained fame in the Doolittle Raid, in which 16 B-25B aircraft, led by the legendary Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, attacked mainland Japan on April 18, 1942, four months after the attack on Peal Harbor.
The museum also features several display aircraft, like the C-47 inside the hangar. It’s open for you to tour and even sit in the pilot’s seat.
While admission to the Champaign Aviation Museum is free, your donations are extremely appreciated. You can also support them through their website. They need everything from money to your time to your tools!
Visiting the Champaign Aviation Museum:
Grimes Field Airport
1652 North Main Street
Urbana, OH 43078