Yan­kee Air Mu­seum cel­e­brates World War II icon

Yan­kee Air Mu­seum cel­e­brates World War II icon Rosie the Riveter and more

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - FRONT PAGE - By Janet Podolak [email protected]­ald.com

Women were half of the work force in World War II when the Wil­low Run Bomber Plant pro­duced a B-24 bomber.

Women were half of the 42,000-per­son work force in World War II when the Wil­low Run Bomber Plant pro­duced a B-24 bomber at the as­ton­ish­ing rate of one each hour. Those work­ers later were nick­named Rosie the Riveter — a fe­male work force that launched sweep­ing so­cial change for suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions.

Ford Mo­tor Co., which built the Wil­low Run and Bomber Plant near Yp­si­lanti, Michi­gan, pro­duced 8,685 bombers on a mile-long as­sem­bly line be­tween 1942 and 1945. Many were used in the crit­i­cally im­por­tant but lit­tle-known China Burma In­dia Theater of World War II.

Ford’s was the first air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing process to use the com­pany’s au­to­mo­tive mass-pro­duc­tion process. Pre­vi­ously, it took one month to build an air­craft.

The 2014 book “The Arse­nal of Democ­racy” by A.J. Baime de­tails the in­cred­i­ble con­tri­bu­tion of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try to the Al­lied vic­tory in World War II.

When the Bomber Plant was ac­tive, it was orig­i­nally 240 mil­lion square feet — the largest build­ing in the world. Al­though much of it has been torn down, part of it is now the Yan­kee Air Mu­seum — which is un­der­go­ing ren­o­va­tion and fundrais­ing so it can be­come the Na­tional Mu­seum of Avi­a­tion and Tech­nol­ogy. It is an af­fil­i­ate of the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion.

In ad­di­tion to its 20 planes, avi­a­tion exhibits and spe­cial events, it of­fers flights on the C-47 Sky­train, an air trans­port plane car­ry­ing 12 pas­sen­gers. The “Yan­kee Doo­dle Dandy” was the first plane pur­chased by the air mu­seum, which also has two other C-47s, in­clud­ing “Hair­less Joe,” which has a big ques­tion mark on its tail.

The ques­tion mark is there be­cause the men op­er­at­ing the plane were not per­mit­ted to talk about the rea­son a long pole with a hook was on the side of its fuse­lage. The pole on the C-47 was used to launch glid­ers in the China Burma In­dia Theater. The C-47 would swoop in close to the ground at 135 mph, then the hook would be de­ployed to snag a ground-based Waco glider to tow it to an op­er­a­tional al­ti­tude, where it would be set free.

In 1944, the group des­ig­nated as the 1st Air Com­mando Group, flew mis­sions over the Hi­malayas, com­monly called the “Hump.”

Burma, now called Myan­mar, was con­trolled by the Ja­pa­nese, who cut off the use of the vi­tal Burma road for get­ting sup­plies into China. Fly­ing over the Hump be­came the sup­ply route for 13 C-47s and 100 CG-4A Waco glid­ers.

Climb aboard “Hair­less Joe” in the Yan­kee Air Mu­seum to see how 12 pas­sen­gers are seated be­tween its win­dows with their backs to the side of the plane. Seat belts are big and bulky but do the job, but it’s hard to imag­ine the lack of com­fort com­pared to a mod­ern air­craft.

The air­craft is in front of two 45-foot tall doors, which op­er­ate like garage doors. They’re the orig­i­nal doors through which the newly built B-24 bombers were driven to the run­way. To­day those same doors open to the C-47 so it can take pas­sen­gers on to the run­way for take-off.

Those who are es­pe­cially ag­ile cab climb into a bomber to see how they were op­er­ated dur­ing the war. It’s not an easy ex­er­cise to reach the plane’s seats in the nose.

Rides aboard the B-17 and B-25 bombers, the C-47, a Waco bi­plane and Huey he­li­copter used in Viet­nam are avail­able, weather per­mit­ting, be­tween April and Oc­to­ber. They can be booked on the Yan­kee Air Mu­seum’s web­site, yan­keeair­mu­seum.org.

The Wil­low Run Bomber Plant also claims the ori­gin of Rosie the Riveter, which be­came a World War II touch­stone af­ter thou­sands of women joined the work­force to re­place the men serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. The ef­fort launched sweep­ing so­cial change.

A cadre of vol­un­teers known as Tribute Rosies tell their sto­ries at the mu­seum.

Many of the women who held men’s jobs liked the work and the pay­check and chose to con­tinue work­ing af­ter the war was over.

In the sum­mer, the Pur­ple Rose Theater in nearby Chelsea in­tro­duced an orig­i­nal mu­si­cal, “Wil­low Run,” based on the chal­lenges, sac­ri­fices and tri­umphs of four women from di­verse back­grounds who met at the bomber plant to do their part for the war ef­fort. The pro­duc­tion played to sold­out au­di­ences through­out its June-to-Septem­ber run.

One es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing mu­seum ex­hibit shows the Dou­glas SBD Daunt­less dive bomber that crashed and sunk in Lake Michi­gan dur­ing a 1944 train­ing ex­er­cise from the air­craft car­rier USS Wolver­ine. The pi­lot ejected safely and swam away from the plane wreck but had to dodge the air­craft car­rier, which al­most hit him. The wreck re­mained in deep wa­ter un­til the mid 1990s, when it was re­cov­ered and brought to the Yan­kee Air Mu­seum and dis­played as the wreck it was.

“We wanted to show the chal­lenges and haz­ards of avi­a­tion train­ing on the Great Lakes,” said Kevin Walsh, the mu­seum’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

A group of adult stu­dents from the Michi­gan In­sti­tute of Avi­a­tion Tech­nol­ogy was hard at work in early De­cem­ber on the restora­tion of a Viet­nam era Boe­ing B52D, known af­fec­tion­ately as BUFF. That stands for Big Ugly Fat Fella, a mu­seum sign ex­plains.

This air­craft flew 600 mis­sions dur­ing the Viet­nam War the sign fur­ther ex­plains.

Some ar­eas of the mu­seum are off-lim­its ex­cept for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. That in­cludes the tex­tile rooms, which pre­serve mil­i­tary uni­forms, hats, shoes and in­signias from sev­eral eras.

The mu­seum’s 20 his­toric air­craft all are stored in­doors in the still-huge space.

The Yan­kee Air Mu­seum and the Michi­gan Aerospace Foun­da­tion are en­gaged in nu­mer­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and fundrais­ing events to pre­serve the his­toric Wil­low Run Bomber Plant as the new home for an ex­panded and reimag­ined mu­seum.

“It will be about nine years be­fore we open as the Na­tional Mu­seum of Avi­a­tion and Tech­nol­ogy,” said Walsh.

Un­til then, the Yan­kee Air Mu­seum makes for an in­ter­est­ing visit into the past of mil­i­tary avi­a­tion.


A Yan­kee Air Mu­seum vol­un­teer tells the story of Rosie the Riveter, the World War II icon who orig­i­nated with the thou­sands of women build­ing bombers at Wil­low Run in World War II.


Stu­dents from the Michi­gan In­sti­tute of Avi­a­tion Tech­nol­ogy work to re­store a Boe­ing B52D that flew 600 com­bat mis­sions in Viet­nam.


This C-47 Sky­train awaits the board­ing of pas­sen­gers for a flight from the Yan­kee Air Mu­seum at Wil­low Run in Yp­si­lanti, Michi­gan.

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