Monday, January 16, 2012

No ordinary sign: Model of plane will serve as a monument

GREEN —  Buried deep off the road, on the periphery of the Akron-Canton Airport, the location of the MAPS Air Museum may as well be classified information — even for locals.

The 21-year-old museum sits several football fields east of Massillon Road, aka state Route 241. Several small roadside signs guide drivers down International Parkway to its home inside a one-time National Guard hangar.

Come this spring, though, the museum’s presence will land squarely in plain view along Massillon Road.

“Everybody will see this!” said Museum member Bob Sours, as he gazed at a full-sized replica of a tattered P-51 Mustang airplane now being restored by volunteers at MAPS.

By March, the 1,000-pound model plane will be complete. The museum, with a hand from and blessing of the city, will mount the plane on a mono pole just off of the road. MAPS Executive Director Kim Kovesci said a brick wall on the ground, circling a portion of the plane, will bear the ‘MAPS’ name.

“This won’t be a sign; it’s a monument,” he said.

The model plane also will rotate on its axis in the wind.

“It doesn’t look too good now, but it’s going to be beautiful,” Kovesci said.

The P-51 was a World War II-era American fighter plane. The model replica at MAPS was cast from a mold of an original P-51, so its dimensions are identical — 32 feet long with a 37-foot wingspan.

This particular one sat on display outside the 100th Bomb Group Restaurant near Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Until, that is, a storm and wind gusts mangled and toppled it from its perch. Last spring, the P-51 was offered to MAPS. Usually, museum volunteers restore real planes. This was only a model.

“But we knew if we didn’t go up there and get it, we’d kick ourselves later,” Kovesci said.

In a single day, working dawn to dusk, volunteers dismantled it. Then it was trucked to the museum. Last fall, work began in earnest. The rotting structure needed overhauled. Then came five gallons of fiberglass to rebuild pieces. By the time it’s mounted, they’ll have invested 3,000 man-hours.

Sherwin-Williams donated $1,000 for paint. The Miller Foundation chipped in another $2,000. And member Larry Lewis has trucked scrap metal from the museum for cash to help pay for the project.

The P-51 model will be dubbed ‘Jean Ann II,’ in honor of another museum member, Bob Withee, who flew P-51s in the war. A decorated pilot, he’d named both those war planes after his wife, Jean Ann.

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