PLANE RESCUE: Michigan group flies to Rantoul in B-25 to see Constellation

RANTOUL — Officials from Yankee Air Museum flew to Rantoul last week in one classic airplane to view another.

Museum Executive Director Kevin Walsh and several other people affiliated with the Ypsilanti, Mich.-based museum came to take a look at one of the last air machines that will be leaving the now-closed Chanute Air Museum for display in another locale. The huge Lockheed Constellation — or “Connie” — was the object of their visit.

Their mode of transport was a B-25 bomber — one of two remaining B-25s that saw combat action in World War II that are still flyable.

The Connie will be dismantled, transported and reassembled at the Michigan museum.

“It’s such a classic airplane,” Walsh said. “It’s such a beautiful aircraft. It was one of the most important leaps in aviation technology was the Constellation — its design, the technology behind it.

Walsh said the Yankee Air Museum is “very much about aviation history” but also focuses on the leaders who created the technology, the enhancement technology.

“All of our education programs are based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” he said.

Walsh said disassembly is expected to begin later this year.  

It will be a lengthy process that  will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish. To that end, Walsh filmed segments asking for donations to help the museum defray the cost of the process.

“It’s such an enormous airplane,” Walsh said.

The plane is owned by the U.S. Navy, which has agreed to place the Connie on permanent loan to the museum.

“The Navy did not want to see this aircraft get cut up,” Walsh said.

Several other planes sitting outside the former air museum at Grissom Hall, which has been closed entirely, won’t be going to new homes.

Allen Jones Sr., who was the operations manager of the former museum, said all the other planes housed outside will be cut up for scrap.

The Nebraska-based Worldwide Aircraft Inc. will dismantle the planes.

Jones said two planes kept inside, a P-38 fighter and a B-58 Hustler jet bomber, will go to new homes. The P-38 will go to a museum in Miami, while the B-58 is headed to Castle Air Force Base in California.

Formed in 1981, the Yankee Air Museum started in a World War II hangar and was a regional aviation museum. In 2004, the museum suffered a massive fire that completely burned the facility, destroying 35,000 artifacts and eight airplanes.

“We were left with flyable aircraft that were literally pulled from the burning building,” Walsh said.

One of those was the B-25 that was flown to Rantoul.

Museum officials decided to fight to remain open. For six years, the museum did not exist as a destination point, but in 2010, the museum purchased a temporary aviation museum. And two years later negotiations were started to secure part of the former Willow Run bomber plant that produced B-24s during World War II. The museum secured 144,000 square feet of that plant.

“That will be the new home for the museum in the next three-four years. That’s allowing us to save something like the Constellation,” Walsh said.

Kept outdoors at the Rantoul museum, the Connie will be housed inside at Yankee. The plane will come out only intermittently when the building is worked on.

Walsh said the plane is “in surprisingly good shape.”

Even so, the plane will be restored.

Walsh credited the crews that worked on the Constellation for the shape it’s in. A history of the plane indicated that between 2000 and 2005, volunteers spent more than 11,500 hours restoring the aircraft while it was at Rantoul.

“For an aircraft that has sat outside for this many years — it flew into this installation decades ago — it really is in fantastic shape. A bravo zulu to the former Navy crews and the people at the former Chanute Air Museum for keeping it looking as sharp as it is,” Walsh said.

The Connie was used as spy aircraft during the Cold War. The planes were constantly running surveillance on such areas as North Korea and the Soviet Union.

“These aircraft were launched one right after another for constant monitoring,” Walsh said.

“We at the museum feel very strongly that we need to save it, although we need to fundraise a lot.”

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