Pics at link above
A World War II-vintage Boeing B-17G, perched for decades atop a business near Portland, Oregon, is being prepped for takeoff once again by the dedicated volunteers who make up the B-17 Alliance.
The ambitious restoration of this 102-foot-wide, 75-foot-long "Flying Fortress," is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $6 million—a portion of which is being funded by admission fees to the group's museum at the Salem Municipal Airport in Salem, Oregon. The museum has also served as command central for the project.
A full restoration of the nose section has already been completed as well as the Sperry under-belly machine-gun turret, which was repaired primarily by local volunteers with the help of a specialist from Massachusetts, who aided the workers mostly by telephone. The B-17G's four Wright Cyclone radial piston engines were also removed for rebuilding, and it was discovered that three could still be returned to working condition. When new, the 1,820-cu.in. power plants— manufactured during the war by Studebaker—produced about 1,100 horsepower each and could lift the 65,000-pound plane, as well as up to 10,000 pounds of bombs and a crew of up to 10 airmen. In addition to the Sperry machine-gun turret, the plane was also equipped with a dozen .50-caliber machine guns throughout the fuselage. Once the B-17—dubbed "Lacey Lady" in honor of Art Lacey, the man who turned the plane into an awning—was transported to the museum, the first step was to disassemble the air frame, and clean and repair any damage.
While aviation buffs are eager to see the Flying Fortress soar again, its absence has been felt by visitors to the Milwaukie, Oregon, establishment where the plane rested for the last six decades. Most recently, the business that thrived in the shadow of the B-17 was Lacey's Bomber Restaurant (now The Bomber Restaurant), but when the plane was first perched there, it was Art Lacey's Bomber Gas Station.
As the story goes, Lacey bet a friend $5 that he could purchase a WWII-surplus plane, fly it to Oregon, and display it at his establishment. After the bet was sealed with a handshake, Lacey secured a $15,000 loan from a friend and traveled to Altus Airfield in Oklahoma in 1947 and purchased a war-salvage B-17. Having some experience piloting small aircraft, he talked the commander of the base into selling him the plane for $13,000. The plane was sold with the stipulation that Lacey could prove to the base commander that he knew how to fly it safely away. The personnel at the base told him that flying the plane was at least a two-man job, and because he had traveled there alone, he fibbed and told them that he had a copilot. He then placed a dressmaker's dummy in the copilot's window to satisfy the requirement, and took off on his test flight. He flew with one hand on the controls while holding the flight manual in the other.
The plane had seen hard service during the war and was not in the best of shape. Lacey wrestled the plane through its take-off and several turns and flyovers as he gained confidence, but he had an issue with the landing gear, and eventually ended up crashing the Flying Fortress on its belly on the runway, and then slid it into another B-17 that was parked on the tarmac. He was slightly injured, but was more concerned that he had just ruined a $13,000 investment. When he approached the base commander and explained he did not have enough money to purchase another plane, the commander asked his secretary if she had finished the purchase paperwork. When she said she had not, the base commander sold Lacey a second plane for $1,500 and wrote off the totaled first plane as wind-damaged.
Lacey sent word to his family to fly down two of his friends to help him on the return flight. They could not even afford fuel to fly the plane home, so they bribed a local fire department with a pumper truck to siphon fuel out of two other decommissioned planes, which yielded enough fuel to fly them to Palm Springs, California. Once Lacey landed there, he wrote a bad check (which he later made good on) for enough fuel to return to Troutdale Airport in Portland, Oregon.
Once on the ground, the plane was disassembled and loaded onto trucks for transport. The plane was too heavy, too high, and too wide to be safely transported down two-lane streets and Lacey was unable to secure the proper permits. Already in the hole for $15,000, he realized if he just moved the plane late at night, he might be able to get away with it before the local police caught on. He hired two motorcyclists to lead the way and told them if the police saw the caravan, to ride away as quickly as possible. They drove the disassembled plane to its final resting place under cover of night, and when the city realized what he had done, he was fined for transporting an oversized load without having the correct permits—and paid the fine of $10.
The plane was then reassembled and mounted above the 48 gas pumps at his business, which included a 15-room motel and Lacey's Bomber Restaurant. The Lacey family continued to operate the restaurant and motel business after the gasoline station closed in 1991. The plane remained there, drawing interested patrons while it continued to deteriorate, falling victim to Oregon's frequent rain, vandalism, and bird droppings. The Laceys began efforts to preserve the plane in 1996, funding the project on their own for a time. Art Lacey died in 2000, but the family remained committed to rebuilding the Lacey Lady. The nose cone was removed for restoration in 2012, which led to even more deterioration to the rest of the plane. The rest of the Lacey Lady was removed from its lofty perch in August of 2014 to begin a complete restoration.
Today, the B-17 Alliance Museum not only houses the Lacey Lady, but contains a large collection of World War II memorabilia and more than 3,000 books about the war and the people of the Greatest Generation, as well as its military artifacts. The foundation has interviewed more than 50 WWII veterans to preserve their stories for generations to come.
The museum is located at 3278 25th Street SE in Salem, in Hangar C of the McNary Field (Salem Municipal Airport), and is open three days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information about the museum and how to make a tax-deductible donation to the project, visit http://www.b17alliance.com .