Glory of former base slowly dimming as another AF plane leaves

RANTOUL — Little by little, evidence that Rantoul was home to an Air Force base is vanishing.

The latest disappearing act came Monday when a B-58 Hustler bomber left the grounds of the former Chanute Air Force Base and began a five-day journey to Castle Air Museum in Atwater, Calif., where it will be reassembled.

Only one more plane from the old air museum remains to be moved for reassembly — an F-101, which will be transported to the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala., at some point.

Most of the other planes have been herded to an area on the south end of the former air museum exterior display area, waiting to be scrapped.

The scrap yard is also possible for a C-97 plane located along south Century Boulevard and the old missile that stands sentry near the old base west gate.

Supersonic bomber
The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight, designed for service in the 1960s.

The plane carried five nuclear weapons. Four were on pylons under the wings, and one nuclear weapon and fuel were in a combination bomb/fuel pod under the fuselage.

The plane was well known for its sonic boom, which the public heard as it passed overhead in supersonic flight. Its use, however, was short-lived due to the introduction of highly accurate Soviet surface-to-air missiles that limited its range and strategic value.

Marty Batura, president of Worldwide Aircraft Recovery, the company hired to move the bomber, said the B-58 was the 10th aircraft the company has moved out of the former air base since the air museum closed.

“This aircraft wasn’t designed to take apart,” Batura said, noting it has a unique wing design, which made disassembly difficult. Putting it back together won’t be a simple task either.

“It’s quite an aircraft. It’s beautiful. It has sexy lines. I think that Castle is going to take really good care of it, and they’ll restore it to beauty.”

Among the planes Worldwide Aircraft Recovery has moved to new homes from Chanute are a C-130, F-15, F-4 Phantom and F-100, among others. The B-58 will be the last plane the company will move from Rantoul.

“We’ve been coming here for two years, pulling the aircraft and taking them out of here,” Batura said. “And we’ve had a really good experience here in town (with) everybody we’ve met.”

Allen Jones, former operations manager for Chanute Air Museum, said he spoke recently with officials at Scott Air Force Base, who came to Rantoul to take photos of the planes to be scrapped.

“They also looked at the C-97 on the corner and the missile by the west gate,” Jones said.

The Air Force will pay for all the scrapping work as well as cleaning up the grounds, including repair of any damage done to the blacktop outside the former air museum.

Jones estimated the scrapping work will take place next spring or summer.

Jones’ father was in the Air Force, so Allen remembers many of the planes in their hey-day.

“Most of these planes were sitting around different spots of the Air Force base in the ‘60s when we moved here,” Jones said. “I hate to see the Air Force go. I think it’s been an important part of our community, an important part of our heritage. I just hope we never forget the role they played here.”

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