Last spring the Kansas Aviation Museum began the task of raising $110,000 to move a B-47 to the museum from a parking lot at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City.
That mission was successful and today that WB-47E is on the ramp at the museum, where it is undergoing restoration. Once that’s complete, it will be added to the museum’s impressive collection of Boeing aircraft.
The jet bomber actually belongs to the National Museum of the Air Force, according to Andrew Labosky Jr. who, along with Walter House, is a project leader on the B-47. Both men served on B-47s while in the Air Force, then went to work for Boeing. Now retired, they are volunteers at the museum.
For 25 years the aircraft was perched on pylons, 18 feet in the air in a parking lot at the fairgrounds, along with a B-52, a C-47 and a Rockwell Aero Commander. The planes had to be moved because of a road realignment project.
City officials made sure the aircraft went to aviation museums around the country although, technically, all still belong to the Air Force museum.
The B-47 was moved the first week in June. The parking lot was a hive of activity during that time, recalls Labosky. In addition to some 15 volunteers from the museum, there was a crew of 25 from Belger Cartage Service, Inc., a company that specializes in the transport of large items such as airplanes.
“We could not have done the job without Belger Cartage,” notes House. “They donated a lot of their time. A lot of it was grunt work. We had to soak the bolts in rust remover to get them to budge.”
Wing removal also was a challenge, he continues. “You can’t remove them at the production attach points because of the way they are installed in the airplane. If you try to do it that way, the fuselage will turn into spaghetti, so we had to cut the wings off.”
The Oklahoma City Fire Department cut the wings off with rescue saws, according to Labosky. The vertical stabilizer was in one piece, as were the pylons and engine nacelles.
Once it was dismantled, the B-47 was loaded onto six flatbed trucks. Getting it to Kansas was an adventure — a very slow adventure, notes Labosky.
“It took three-an-a-half days to do what would normally be a two-and-a-half-hour drive, because they had to travel on country back roads,” he says. “They couldn’t take it on the turnpike because the tail of the aircraft was too tall.”
During the journey, crews used poles to lift hanging wires out of the way.
Once the airplane arrived in Kansas, museum staff and volunteers started making plans for its restoration. There were many missions for B-47s and, therefore, many configurations. The team decided to restore it as a WB-47E, which was this particular airplane’s final configuration. The “W” designates it as a weather reconnaissance airplane, which means it lacks the 20-millimeter cannon and bomb bay doors that many other B-47s have.
Before the B-47 went to Oklahoma it had been gutted by the military. Among the missing items was the landing gear, not needed when the aircraft was on pylons.
“We found a replacement for the main landing gear through the Air Force museum at Wright-Patterson,” says House. “They had a spare set and one of our volunteers went up there to get them and bring them back. We are still looking for the outrigger gear. We may have to improvise.”
For the most part, the aircraft fared well in the elements, says Labosky.
“There was no damage from weather because it was sealed up tight and no birds got in it except for the tail,” he says. “There is a couple of hundred pounds of bird residue, if you want to call it that, in the horizontal stabilizer where it hinges to the elevator. Otherwise, it is in good condition.”
Because the restoration is being done on the ramp, the window of opportunity is slim, according to Labosky, who notes “it is too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.”
“We haven’t done much in the past few months,” says House, “but we have already had quite a few people come to see the airplane. The B-47 is very popular because a lot of them were built here in Wichita.”
For more information: KansasAviationMuseum.org.