Ex-local taking piece of Rantoul with him

RANTOUL — Wayne Novy learned to ride a bike in Rantoul.

He used to eat at Burger Chef and had his first taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the village.

Now he’s taking part of Rantoul’s history away with him.

The curator and operations director of the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala., was part of a crew that began disassembling a World War II-era B-25J Mitchell bomber that has been housed for years at Chanute Air Museum.

Novy said his co-workers were probably getting tired of hearing stories about his early life in Rantoul.

Memory lane is like that. Bittersweet. Just like the planned closure of Chanute Air Museum later this year. It’s an emotional time for so many whose life’s work revolved around the former Air Force base.

While standing atop the bomber last week, preparing for its transport to the Birmingham museum for display, Novy looked back as well as ahead.

What is a loss for Rantoul and its air museum is a cause for celebration for museum staff and many residents of Birmingham, who were excited when they learned the bomber would be heading their way, Novy said. Not only because of its history of World War II service, but also because it had been used to train pilots and crews of the Tuskegee Airmen — the famed black aviators who got their start at Chanute before moving to Alabama.

Novy and his family lived just off base from 1962-68. He was 7 when they left — his father having been transferred to the Philippines. His father, John, was a staff sergeant at Chanute and taught in the tech school as an aircraft electrician.

“I do remember a lot” about Rantoul, Novy said. “I can tell you where things are.”

Corn now grows on the land where his family’s house stood on the southeast corner of the base.

Novy attended Thomasboro Grade School.

He has fond memories of his time in the area.

“I recall coming to the air show one time,” Novy said. “My mom and dad didn’t like the big crowds coming with four little kids,” so they would try to stay on the perimeter to watch the show.

It wasn’t so nice when it came time to leave and prepare to head to the Philippines, though.

“For a little kid going overseas, getting all those shots was a big memory,” he said. “Everybody thought it was cool that 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds were getting four and five shots every time they went in there.”

Like his father, Novy entered the Air Force. He was an aircraft mechanic, had a 22-year Air Force career and crewed many versions of the C-135. Novy is the only Air Force enlisted graduate of the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course. Later he shifted his career focus and began studying foreign languages.

“The Balkans were sort of a hot spot, so I thought that might be a good thing to do, so I became an airborne linguist,” Novy said. “I worked hard, and being a little more mature than the other kids in the class (he was in his 30s) helped me a lot.”

He learned to speak Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian and Macedonian.

Novy wasn’t at liberty to talk about any Air Force missions using his newfound linguistic skills, but said he has been able to put his language skills to use after leaving military service. A radiation oncologist, for instance, would ask him for translation help with a Serbian or Croatian patient.

Novy’s father “was always a private pilot. We always talked about airplanes. No one else in the family was interested. From a very young age he was very influential” in Wayne’s interest in aviation.

Novy is not a pilot yet, he said, but “we’re working on it.”

In 2004, Novy joined the Southern Museum of Flight, having previously worked at a number of aviation museums. He has also maintained vintage aircraft, both flying and non-flying. A graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Novy holds degrees in history and anthropology.

The Southern Museum of Flight maintains about 100 aircraft.

This isn’t the first time the B-25 will have been to Birmingham.

“It came to Birmingham in the 1950s to be modified to be a navigation trainer,” Novy said. “It became a TB-25. This is a B-25 that the Tuskegee Airmen actually flew.”

The Airmen are well known as excellent fighter pilots, but Novy said the military didn’t know how long the war would last, so theyalso began training them to fly bombers.

Novy said he expected to be finished disassembling the B-25 last week and planned to return “in a few weeks to put it on a truck” and ship it to Alabama.

“You never want to rush anything like this,” he said. “You never want to break anything or hurt anybody.

“Sometimes when you take things apart, you kind of clean things as you go. It’s so much easier to put things back together that are clean and organized and tend to fit together better.”

Novy said the B-25 has been in one piece since it was built.

“It’s 70 years old this year,” he said.

That’s older than the man heading the disassembly operation. Novy is 53.

The curator said it’s kind of unsettling to prepare to take the plane away.

“It’s kind of odd to go to a museum and take someone else’s airplane,” he said. “But they’re all excited about it finding a good home.”

As the son of a military parent, Novy knows a lot about going to a new home.



Categories (2):News, Living


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