Warbirds News recently held a conversation with Sean O’Brien, Director of Operations for the B-17 Alliance Group. The organization, based in Aurora, Oregon is working to preserve the famous Gas Station Flying Fortress, B-17G 44-85790 known as “Lacey Lady”. This is the B-17 which has stood for many decades atop pylons over a gas station (now closed) in Milwaukie, Oregon. Obviously, in the harsh Oregon outdoor environment, the old bomber has suffered considerably over the many years of exposure. The B-17 Alliance Group is in the process of remedying this and has begun restoring the Fort back to airworthy condition. Warbirds News will be bringing readers regular status updates, and information on how to contribute.
The B-17 Alliance Group formed back in the 1990s with the intention of not only preserving “Lacey Lady”, but the stories of the men and women surrounding the B-17 during the type’s service life. The organization removed Lacey Lady’s forward fuselage back in 1997, trucking it to nearby Aurora airport for restoration by Shane Wease. Unfortunately, funding ran out soon after the nose section was completed, so the project went on hold for a number of years.
However, things are now moving along again at a fair pace. As Sean states, “We took a step back and regrouped. We have done a lot of behind the scenes work the last few years. We now have our own hanger at Aurora. We have assembled a great team of volunteers. The cockpit is inside sitting in the jig and we will resume work on that later this month.”
The team is now preparing to bring the rest of the bomber down from the pylons, and shelter the old girl in their hangar as the long rebuild process takes shape.
Sean again, “In the summer of 2012 we removed the engines from the airplane to balance and lighten the airplane in preparation for bringing it down. Those engines are now in our hanger, and they are likely the lowest time 1820-97’s in existence with about 37 hrs since new. In the summer of 2013, we sent our cockpit roof to Atlanta Georgia along with our cheyenne tail turret where master craftsman Tom Wilson is rebuilding these components. Tom is also making us new skins for the cockpit. In the fall of 2013 we removed the rudder and elevators.
We plan on bringing the Lacey Lady down off the pole this spring. Once down it will take about 2 months to get her cleaned, dismantled and transported to our hanger. A lot of people have asked why don’t you just get a crane and bring it down? It is not quite that simple. We have done our homework. Besides hiring a crane company, there is the 2 months of security fence rental so that once the airplane is down people don’t just show up in the middle of the night armed with a battery powered sawzall and help themselves to a piece of the plane as a souvenir. Then you have equipment rental. Transport costs, etc. Add it all up and it gets expensive fast. We are currently launching a fundraising campaign in order to cover these costs so that we may not only get the Lacey Lady out of the elements before there is nothing left to save, but to also continue the restoration.
Once inside she will not just be tucked away and forgotten about. The bomb bay and radio room will join the cockpit in the jig. The rear fuselage will be also placed in a jig. Once placed in the jigs, the work will continue. Even though we are picking up momentum, it is still going to take 5-7 yrs to complete this restoration. One thing we have going for us is that our airplane has not been crushed or burned, but with the corrosion and missing components from theft and vandals, we have our work cut out for us. But we believe this is a very doable restoration. All the work that has been done so far has been done to airworthy condition. When we are finished with the restoration we plan to fly her as a tribute to the men and women who served in WW2.”
While the five to seven year restoration plan seems overly optimistic for an aircraft of this size, it seems certain that events are moving very much in favor of this Flying Fortress’s favor. As stated already, we will continue to bring you updates as they occur. Anyone interested in learning more, or contributing should visit www.b17alliancegroup.com. Sean O’Brien can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org