Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Sky's The Limit For Watertown International Airport's Future

The 50-set jet touches down and a nearly full load of passengers steps off. 

But these flights aren't the only service taking off at the Watertown International Airport. 

Private jet service is, too.

Planes big and small, landing and leaving, bodes well for the bottom line.

"With all this traffic, you increase fuel sales, hangar revenue, which we were currently out of space. There's a waiting list for hangars," said Phil Reed, chair of the county legislature's General Services Committee.

That's why the airport has been busy adding on with $22 million worth of projects since Jefferson County took it over six years ago.

"Over 95 percent of it has been funded by grants," said Reed.

A big new hangar is just about finished and a new business center will cater to private flights.

"It will add a location for business meetings and executives to meet as well as a location for family members who have loved ones flying in on small aircraft," said Grant Sussey, airport manager.

A taxiway is being overhauled and a 1,000-foot runway extension could happen next year.

The county's long term goal is to make the airport financially self-sufficient.

"That's the extremely long-term goal," said Reed.

One that still might be ten years or so down the road - or in this case, the runway.

Story and Video:  http://www.wwnytv.com

New hangar under way at Schenectady County Airport (KSCH), New York

Schenectady County and Richmor Aviation officials will gather at 11 a.m. Thursday for a “steel going up” ceremony at the Schenectady County Airport in Glenville. Richmor is building a 20,000-square-foot, $1.2 million hangar to accommodate its growing private aviation business there.

“So many new technology ventures are within minutes of this airport,” said Mahlon Richards, president of the Columbia County-based Richmor, said in a release first announcing the project late last summer. “Our vision is to bring more corporate jet management, jet charter and maintenance to the site.

“It is a convenient location and is perfect for time-critical flights that local technology companies require to visit their national or international affiliates,” he added.

Richmor, in addition to Schenectady County and Columbia County airports, also has operations at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh.

Richmor is the Schenectady County Airport’s fixed-base operator, providing fuel and other support services. It also offers a flight school for pilots in association with Schenectady County Community College, as well as supporting the college’s air traffic controller program based at the airport.

The airport, owned by Schenectady County, is also home to the Stratton Air National Guard Base, an Armed Forces Reserve Center, an airport business park and the county’s ice hockey rink.

- Source:  http://blog.timesunion.com

World War II vet Kronenberg treated to flight in Oshkosh

World War II veteran Harold “Diz” Kronenberg had nothing but superlatives in describing his flight Tuesday morning in a P-51 Mustang fighter jet.

 “The whole day was emotional, very emotional,” Kronenberg, 89, of Eau Claire said Tuesday night about his ride with pilot Cowden Ward of Burnet, Texas, part of the nonprofit Freedom Flyers group that offers free rides to veterans.

“The flight was fantastic,” he said about the 20-minute experience at the EAA AirVenture 2014 in Oshkosh. “My goodness, I thought I was a rock star. They were all so good to us.

“The airplane ride, well, it was a fantastic ride, and the pilot turned it up a bit at the end and did a few little tricks, which was fun. It was a really great time.”

After Kronenberg’s flight, WWII vet Doug Ward of Mondovi got a flight.

“Everything went just super,” added Kronenberg, who was a B-17 gunner in the war. “They had a B-17 at the air show, so I had to go over there and talk to the pilot and others. Let’s just say there were a lot of stories, a million questions and I got a chance to talk with people I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

When asked again about the P-51 flight in the near perfect weather conditions, Kronenberg said, “I think I could have flown it, it was so smooth. I think the pilot did a little dive and pulled out a little to get a little G-force just to satisfy me.”

Kronenberg, who played several weeks with the Eau Claire Bears in the Northern League in 1942, wore an Eau Claire baseball hat during the flight.

Chance to give back
 
Cowden Ward, in an interview Monday, said he bought a P-51 a few years ago “and just got on a mission to fly every one of the World War II vets that we can get our hands on. Everyone who wants a ride gets one.

“It’s just something we want to do to give back to the greatest generation,” added Ward, 69, who didn’t serve in the military. “It’s the only way I know I can provide them something that the guy next door couldn’t maybe do.”

Kronenberg was driven to Oshkosh early Tuesday by retired Eau Claire County Judge Ben Proctor.

“He was so excited. It seemed to mean a lot to him,” Proctor said after the flight. “It was fantastic to be a part of, in a small way. I’m so glad for Diz to get the chance to do this. I think there were a lot of memories brought back by the flight and seeing all the other planes there.”

Family aids effort

Kronenberg’s trip was organized by his niece and nephew, Deanna and Tom Horn of Austin, Texas.

“It all worked out well,” Tom Horn said Tuesday. “We are so thrilled that we could get Uncle Diz on that flight.”

Tom Horn, an 11-year Air Force veteran, is involved with Honor Flight Austin, which gets WWII veterans trips to Washington. He’d heard of the Freedom Flyers and started coordinating efforts to get Kronenberg a ride in the P-51.

“It was just a streak of good luck that all this fell in place,” Tom Horn said. “We are so glad for him. This is so great!”

Ball turret gunner

Kronenberg enlisted in the war effort upon turning 18 and eventually served as a ball turret gunner in the cramped space at the bottom of the plane where he operated 50-caliber machine guns capable of firing 1,100 rounds per minute.

Before that, he had one session in an advanced training fighter jet in Las Vegas, causing him to bring along a bag for Tuesday’s ride.

“In that first ride in Vegas, I vomited all over the generator,” Kronenberg said with a laugh. “I got airsick. You go out on a hot day and the turbulence and colder air over the mountains caused me some problems. When we got back down, I got sick all over again and later had to clean it all up.”

Kronenberg said he’d already flown two missions out of Tunisia, 19 out of Italy and 20 out of England before the P-51s entered the scene. His last mission was the day before D-Day — the war’s turning point on June 6, 1944, in which Allied forces stormed Normandy, France, and marched across Europe to defeat the Nazis and Adolf Hitler the following spring.

New book coming out

Kronenberg, a staff sergeant, earned the Distinguished Service Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross, two Presidential Unit Citations and an Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters. He went on to become a renowned and respected athlete, teacher and coach in Eau Claire, and his eighth book is soon to be released.

“When I got back, I wanted to sign up as a cadet and get in as a fighter pilot. I passed the written test but the war was coming to a close, so I never got the chance,” Kronenberg said.

“I have a lot of memories and have been fortunate to be involved in a lot of things over the years,” he said. “Tuesday was another one to remember.”

- Source:  http://www.leadertelegram.com

Contributed photo 
Kronenberg honored for service World War II veteran Harold “Diz” Kronenberg of Eau Claire rides in the jump seat behind pilot Cowden Ward Tuesday morning for a flight in Ward’s WWII P-51 Mustang fighter at EAA AirVenture 2014 in Oshkosh. Ward, with the Texas-based Freedom Flyers, offers veterans free flights to acknowledge their service. Kronenberg, 89, was a B-17 gunner in the war.

With the wind in their face, Breezy pilots enjoy the ride

Oshkosh — They look like something the Wright Brothers would have sketched on the back of an envelope.

But Breezys are not that old — they date back only 50 years — and their owners swear they're the best way to fly as long as you don't have to be somewhere on time.

Open cockpits? The Breezy cockpit is so open pilots' feet dangle underneath them, terra firma passing slowly by their toes.

"It's like a motorcycle in the sky," said Alex Kennerly, who flew in his dad's amphibious Breezy to Oshkosh from Branson, Mo.

His dad, Dave Kennerly, who sat in the front seat flying the Breezy with a ship's wheel to control the aircraft, had a somewhat different view.

"It's like flying in a wind tunnel," he said.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Breezy and to honor one of its founders, Carl Unger, who died last year, Breezy owners and pilots from around the U.S. and overseas have gathered at EAA AirVenture this week with 13 Breezy planes parked in the home built area.

On Wednesday afternoon a squadron of Breezys, looking like dragonflies from the ground, flew in formation over Wittman Regional Airport.

A combination of a gyroplane and an antique Jenny "pusher" aircraft, the plane cooked up by Unger and two fellow corporate pilots in 1964 was dubbed Breezy — perhaps because everyone sitting in the passenger and pilot seats gets windswept.

Dressed in red vest, white shirt, black tie, cap and goggles, Unger was a familiar sight at AirVenture for decades, giving countless free rides to whoever wanted to experience the feeling of flight without much of a plane surrounding them — and selling the construction plans to anyone who wanted to build one.

Rob Unger, a pilot for Southwest Airlines who also flies a Breezy, said his father enjoyed introducing one of the purest forms of powered flight to thousands of people including Apollo astronauts, the crew of the Concorde supersonic jet, celebrities, children and folks attracted by the sight of the odd-looking aircraft.

Too heavy and carrying too much fuel, 22 gallons, to be considered an ultralight, Breezys typically fly at cruising speeds of 70 to 80 mph. Breezys are 22 feet long with a 33-foot wing span and a 100-horsepower pusher engine located behind the passenger. They're considered experimental aircraft, and because of that distinction, pilots cannot charge for flights.

More than 1,000 Breezys are flying throughout the world, usually in short hops because it's not a plane to travel nonstop across the country. It took the Kennerlys, who fly the only float-plane Breezy, a few days to travel 570 miles from their home in Missouri to Oshkosh, including 14 fuel stops.

Carl Schmidt is building a Breezy at his home near Stuttgart, Germany, a project he started in 2006. He was fascinated by vintage planes, wanted to build one, discovered the Breezy during an Internet search and became hooked.

Though Schmidt traveled to Oshkosh in a more conventional aircraft, when he finishes building his Breezy he is considering shipping it to Oshkosh so he can fly it here at a future AirVenture.

"Flying a Breezy, compared to a closed cockpit, is like swimming naked. You're in front with the whole plane behind you. It's flying like a bird," Schmidt said.

Bugs can be a problem, which is why Breezy pilots wear goggles and keep their mouths closed. They try not to fly in bad weather, but sometimes that can't be helped. Rain feels like tiny BBs hitting their faces, said Mark Yankovich of Marquette, Mich., who wears a white shirt, tie and red vest to honor Carl Unger, who gave him his first ride in a Breezy.

Yankovich, in turn, gives rides to anyone who wants to experience the Breezy. The most common question he gets?

"Can you fall out? No — the wind holds you in your seat," said Yankovich, standing in front of his Breezy at AirVenture. "I've waved at kids and they jump up and down. When people see me fly by they get in their cars and drive out to see me in the Breezy. You don't see that with a Piper Cub."

Yankovich also gets stares from other creatures, apparently surprised to share the sky with such an odd-looking contraption.

"I've seen birds come close," Yankovich said. "One time I had a duck that was flying ahead of me and he actually turned his head and looked at me and then he peeled away."


- Source:  http://www.jsonline.com

Sean Jeralds (left) wheels his Breezy to its parking spot after a short flight Wednesday at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh.

EAA AirVenture helps new careers take flight

Oshkosh - As many airlines and aviation companies face a shortage of workers, organizers of AirVenture 2014 think they can help fill some jobs. Among Wednesday's activities was a special career fair for people interested in joining the field of aviation.

Anywhere you go at AirVenture you'll find pilots and people with a passion for aviation, which is why it makes sense, right in the middle of it all, to hold a career fair.

"Taking off, going up in the clouds, and that's your office, that would be awesome," 19-year-old Tucker Gott from New Jersey said.

Gott is in college now and looking for opportunities in commercial flight for after school.

"I've known I want to fly my entire life, so why not do that as a career?"

But not everyone has as direct a path as Gott. It's those people who were at AirVenture's career fair, looking for opportunities.

"The amount of pilots and people interested in aviation at AirVenture is just a great source to get the name out and get it known," Mark Merwick, a pilot recruiter for Endeavor Air, said.

Recruiters told us they also predict a surge in flight in the next few years, particularly with growing regional airlines -- meaning they'll need even more new pilots need to replace those who retire.

"We have a lot of aging work force -- people in the Baby Boomers -- and definitely, we need new, interested people to fill those ranks," Ryan Funke, senior program manager at Rockwell Collins, said.

And where better to find them than a convention filled with avid and young aviators?

"We are just starting to get back on track where you see the interest of people wanting to be pilots again," Merwick said.

They're hoping the career fair will make that happen -- if not the air shows and impressive planes.

"I don't see myself doing anything but flying for the rest of my life, and I think flying with a commercial airline like FedEx or someplace like that would be awesome," Elizabeth Resh from Arkansas said.

- Source:   http://www.wbay.com


 WBAY


Half of air traffic controller job offers go to people with no aviation experience

Less than 4 percent of the more than 22,000 members of the general public with no aviation background who applied this year to become air-traffic controllers have passed new tests designed to increase off-the-street hiring, but they were offered slightly more than half of the roughly 1,600 new controller slots in the current job pool, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday.

Students and graduates of FAA-accredited collegiate air-traffic control programs, meanwhile, were offered slightly less than half of the controller jobs, the FAA said.

The hiring breakdown marks a major shift in FAA recruitment strategy, which is now geared toward trying to keep ahead of a wave of controller retirements while also attracting more minorities and women to the nation’s airport towers and radar facilities, officials have said.

For almost the last 25 years, until the off-the-street hiring process was implemented in February, the FAA recruited controllers heavily from among military veterans possessing aviation experience and from the 36 FAA-approved college aviation programs across the U.S., the Tribune reported this spring.

Those two groups must now compete against the general public, and the first phase to trim the list of potential controller candidates centers on a controversial biographical assessment.

Under the revised program, the pass rate for the almost 6,000 aviation students and graduates was about 13 percent, the FAA said.

Critics of the FAA’s new controller recruitment process said that rate – while three times higher than for other applicants – was significantly reduced because of the biographical assessment, which weeded out many applicants before they had an opportunity to take the traditional air-traffic control tests that assess knowledge and aptitude for working in the fast-paced, high-tension world of directing planes.

Some aviation experts said the FAA’s move to increase diversity in its controller work force by hiring candidates with no prior aviation experience could compromise flight safety and lead to a high wash-out rate among the new hires.

Members of Congress have sought assurances from the FAA that safety will not be impaired, and the lawmakers also blasted the FAA for a “lack of transparency’’ in the new controller hiring policy.

The biographical assessment consisted of 62 multiple-choice questions, many of which mirrored questions in a personality test. It included questions about how peers would describe the individual and the age at which the person started to earn money.

Critics, who included faculty of college controller training programs, said the online biographical assessment included no safeguards to ensure that the job applicant was actually the same person who took the assessment.

FAA officials defended the switch, saying the biographical assessment helped the agency “select from a larger pool of qualified applicants than under past vacancy announcements” and reduced testing and training costs.

“The bio-data assessment served its intended purpose of screening a large pool of applicants into a smaller group of the best candidates,” an FAA statement issued Wednesday said.

The FAA said it received more than 28,000 applications, including about 22,500 applications from the general public, of which 837 passed and were offered jobs.

Applicants with controller training in college programs “did very well,’’ FAA spokeswoman Kristie Greco said, pointing to the 754 jobs offered to air-traffic control students and graduates.

About 65 percent of the new class of controller candidates has “some combination of (collegiate controller training), military or some specific aviation-related work history or experience,’’ Greco said.

Story and Comments:   http://www.chicagotribune.com

Boeing to build 787-10 exclusively in North Charleston

 Boeing Co. soon will assemble all three versions of the 787 Dreamliner at its non-unionized plant in North Charleston.

The Chicago-based aerospace giant said Wednesday it will produce the 787-10 - the largest version of the popular, back-ordered commercial jetliner - exclusively at its factory beside Charleston International Airport.

The expansion won't result in any new jobs or new buildings, a company official said. But at least one aviation analyst says the airplane manufacturer will have to boost its work force to meet increased production goals while introducing a new line.

The 787-10 is the longest of the twin-aisle Dreamliner family, and the announcement of its construction here has been expected for months.

It also means Boeing will be producing a full line of one commercial jetliner for the first time away from a unionized plant.

Design of the 787-10 is underway in Everett, Wash., with final assembly of the first 787-10 scheduled to begin in South Carolina in 2017.

"We looked at all our options and found the most efficient and effective solution is to build the 787-10 at Boeing South Carolina," said Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

"This will allow us to balance 787 production across the North Charleston and Everett sites as we increase production rates," he said. "We're happy with our growth and success in South Carolina, and the continued success at both sites gives us confidence in our plan going forward."

Boeing will continue to assemble both 787-8s and 787-9s in Everett and North Charleston. The North Charleston site currently fully assembles the 787-8 at a rate of three a month and will begin full assembly of the larger 787-9 in the fall.

Currently, the rear fuselage sections for all Dreamliners are produced in North Charleston, and midbodies, or center fuselage sections, are integrated from parts made elsewhere. Those parts are flown to Washington state for assembly into the 787-8 and 787-9. Everett produces seven Dreamliners a month.
Midbody decision

The 787-10 will be 18 feet longer than the 787-9 and carry 323 passengers, 33 percent more than the 787-8 and 15 percent more than the 787-9.

Because 10 feet of the 787-10's increase is in the midbody fuselage section, the 787-10 midbody is too long to be transported efficiently from North Charleston to the Everett facility for final assembly, Loftis said.

Aviation analysts for months have been saying the increased size of the 787-10 would not allow it to be transported to Everett, and North Charleston would be selected for full production.

"It wasn't really that big a surprise that Charleston would get the nod for the 787-10," said Saj Ahmad, an aviation analyst with StrategicAero Research. "The center section is simply too long to transport cost-effectively to the Puget Sound factory, and given the heavy capital investment at its South Carolina plant, it always made commercial sense to keep the 787-10 in the Lowcountry."

Because of decreased unfinished parts being flown to Everett from North Charleston in recent months and a concerted effort by Boeing to drive down production costs, Ahmad said the company's announcement means it believes in the South Carolina plant.

"Charleston's continuous (improvement in its) learning curve gives Boeing confidence that South Carolina has the experience and backing to tackle and deliver the 787-10 on time in 2018," he said. "If the 787-10 should encounter any angst, you can pretty much bet your buck that Boeing will pull out all the stops again to ensure that disruption, if any, is minimized."

Boeing has 7,500 employees at its North Charleston operation, including hundreds of contract workers brought in earlier this year.


Jobs?

Boeing recently leased nearly 500 additional acres between International Boulevard and Dorchester Road from the state to expand operations, but Loftis said adding the new line will not mean any new jobs or expansion of current buildings in North Charleston.

"I don't see any significant increase in jobs," Loftis said. "The higher rates will be driving manufacturing productivity. It's great news because it means we can stay competitive in the marketplace."

He also said the recent building expansions in North Charleston can handle the capacity. "There is nothing new on the horizon," Loftis said.

Boeing has started ground work on the site for the new paint facility, where all 787s will be painted in customers' logos, including the 787-10 when it rolls off the assembly line in 2018.

But Ahmad said Boeing will have no choice but to boost its labor force in North Charleston at some point.

"The challenge is increasing productivity with the existing work pool, which I doubt can be sustained without more workers," he said.

To fill more than 1,000 787 orders and the possibility of future commitments, Ahmad said, "Boeing will at some point have to add more employees to manage that workload."

The 787 production rate will increase to 12 airplanes per month in 2016 and 14 per month by the end of the decade.

The Everett facility will continue to assemble seven airplanes per month, while Boeing South Carolina final assembly will gradually increase from three 787s per month today to five per month in 2016 and seven per month by the end of the decade.

More than 165 Dreamliners have been delivered to 21 customers around the globe. Since its launch in June 2013, the 787-10 has won 132 orders from six global customers.


'Terrific vote of confidence'


Gov. Nikki Haley, who privately toured the North Charleston factory Monday, called Boeing's announcement "huge" for South Carolina.

"That Boeing is committing the future of the Dreamliner to our state - the first place ever outside of Washington state that Boeing has built a commercial airplane - lets the whole world know that South Carolina workers are the best around. The success that Boeing South Carolina has become in less than five years is a testament to the Boeing leadership and, above all, the Boeing employees whose talent and dedication make all of us so proud."

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham called the announcement "a terrific vote of confidence in the South Carolina work force."

"It will solidify Boeing's position in South Carolina and continue to draw suppliers to South Carolina, which will create more jobs," Graham, R-S.C., said.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., called Boeing's decision "a testament to our role in leading the nation's manufacturing renaissance. Their decision speaks to how South Carolina is bringing together our state's skilled work force and advanced American-based manufacturing. This combination is creating good-paying jobs and contributing to our growing economy."


More funds to train?

To help educate workers for the burgeoning aerospace industry in the Lowcountry, Trident Technical College hopes to build a $79 million aeronautical training center on its North Charleston campus.

"The expansion announcement highlights the urgency of moving forward with our plans," Trident Tech President Mary Thornley said. "This is part of the future we are training students to be ready for. The future is now."

The school has raised nearly $38 million so far for the center from state and local governments as well as TTC.

S.C. Rep. Chip Limehouse, a member of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee which helped commit $10 million toward the center earlier this year, said Boeing's decision to produce the new Dreamliner in North Charleston will bolster the school's fundraising campaign.

"We want South Carolinians to take the jobs that are being created," he said.


Union activity


The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union, which is trying to organize the North Charleston factory, said Boeing's decision may help its efforts.

"Stepped-up production may bring increased interest to unionization," union spokesman Frank Larkin said. "Forced overtime is already a hot issue among Boeing employees in South Carolina."

The union is still in the card-collecting stage of getting enough workers to sign up before a vote can be taken, but Larkin said interest is increasing.

In Seattle, local union President Jon Holden told The Seattle Times, "While we are not surprised, we are certainly disappointed to see Boeing make this decision."

The newspaper's take on the announcement: "It makes clearer the profound impact of Boeing's 2009 decision to bypass its unionized stronghold in Washington state in favor of building a second 787 assembly line in non-union South Carolina: Dreamliner final assembly will in six years be equally divided between the East and West Coast sites."

Boeing South Carolina workers hailed the announcement as a good omen for the plant.

Contract worker Augustine Greene said it's more convenient for the company to build the 787-10 Dreamliner in North Charleston than in Washington state, in part due to the massive size of the plane.

"It's an advantage for not just the city, but the state," he said. "For the residents, it'll bring more employment and more work."

Another worker who asked not to be identified said, "I'm not sure how it would impact the production rate around here, or whether we'd have to expand, but it's good news for us."

Story and Comments:  http://www.postandcourier.com


 

Last surviving member of Enola Gay crew to drop atomic bomb on Hiroshima dies in Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) -- The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, hastening the end of World War II and forcing the world into the atomic age, has died in Georgia.

Theodore VanKirk, also known as "Dutch," died Monday of natural causes at the retirement home where he lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.

VanKirk flew nearly 60 bombing missions, but it was a single mission in the Pacific that secured him a place in history. He was 24 years old when he served as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb deployed in wartime over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

He was teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee in Tibbets' fledgling 509th Composite Bomb Group for Special Mission No. 13.

The mission went perfectly, VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. He guided the bomber through the night sky, just 15 seconds behind schedule, he said. As the 9,000-pound bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" fell toward the sleeping city, he and his crewmates hoped to escape with their lives.


-  Source:  http://www.cleveland.com


FILE - In this Aug. 6, 1945 file photo, the "Enola Gay" Boeing B-29 Superfortress lands at Tinian, Northern Mariana Islands after the U.S. atomic bombing mission against the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Tom VanKirk says his 93-year-old father, the last surviving member of the Enola Gay crew, died in Stone Mountain, Ga. on Monday, July 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Max Desfor) (Associated Press file)

Port Clinton, Ohio: Liberty Aviation Museum, historic Ford Tri-Motor highlight aviation history in a boater's town

Port Clinton, Ohio – This town is perhaps best known for its prime location on the Lake Erie shore, a frequent destination for boaters.

But not too long ago, it was known for another mode of transportation – air travel.

Island Airlines, founded in 1930, was among the nation's longest-running commercial airlines when it ceased operating in 1985. It also had one of the smallest service areas: Twice-a-day flights from Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay, Kelleys, Middle Bass and North Bass islands.

Island Air famously used the Ford Tri-Motor, the nation's first mass-produced commercial airplane, to haul cargo – schoolchildren, groceries, mail "and the occasional pregnant woman," according to a 1950s-era video clip – from island to mainland (and vice versa).

The airplane, which Henry Ford pulled from production in 1932, hasn't flown regularly from Port Clinton in nearly 30 years.

That will change this summer, with the arrival last week of the "City of Wichita," a historic plane that took part in the nation's first transcontinental air-rail service, flying the Columbus to Oklahoma link in a 1929 New York-to-California route.

The plane was recently purchased by the Liberty Aviation Museum, which plans to showcase the vehicle at its Port Clinton campus – that is, when the airplane isn't traveling the country, taking aviation buffs into the sky for joy rides.

"It will be an ambassador for the region," said Jeff Sondles, operations director for the museum.

Sondles said the significance of the City of Wichita to commercial aviation is comparable to the importance of the Memphis Belle and Enola Gay to World War II-era aircraft.

Its purchase comes two years after the museum first opened its doors, funded by a foundation created after the death of George V. Woodling Jr., a Cleveland-area history and aviation buff who died in 2010.

"What a wonderful way to celebrate," said Sondles, "by bringing the Ford Tri-Motor back where it belongs in Port Clinton, Ohio."

The City of Wichita will be the museum's second Tri-Motor – there were only 199 built, before Henry Ford pulled the plug on the company's aviation division – though the first one is not fly-worthy yet.

It's being restored – reconstructed might be a more accurate word – inside the museum, which is on the grounds of the Erie-Ottawa International Airport, the same airport where Island Air used to operate.

The small museum divides its space between two primary themes: the Tri-Motor and local aviation history, and military aviation history with an Ohio slant.

Also onsite: a terrific restaurant in a 1950s-era diner, relocated from Jim Thorpe, Pa. It's called the Tin Goose, which was a nickname for the all-metal Tri-Motor.

Among the museum's more interesting historical displays:

 
* A beautifully restored B-25 Mitchell bomber, dubbed Georgie's Gal, named after Woodling. The plane, built in 1945, wasn't used in the war, but for training afterward. It's painted with a female devil on one side (Helena) and angel on the other (Angela).

* A glass case filled with World War II memorabilia from actor and Ohio native Clark Gable, a major in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Among the items: his AAF jacket and his separation papers, signed by Ronald Reagan, then a captain in the Army Air Forces. Gable, born in Cadiz, enlisted at age 41, only after the death of his wife, Carole Lombard, who was killed in a plane crash in January 1942.

* Mementoes from Lenny Thom, the Sandusky native who was John Kennedy's second in command on PT 109, the Navy boat that was destroyed by the Japanese in August 1943 in the Solomon Islands. Both Thom and Kennedy were credited with the subsequent rescue of the surviving members of the crew, and awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Kennedy served as a pallbearer at the Youngstown funeral of Thom, who died in a car crash in 1946.

The museum is in the final stages of restoring a 72-foot-long PT boat, named Thomcat, after Thom. The boat, built in 1945, should be available for rides on Lake Erie later this summer, according to Sondles.

Eventually, museum officials plan to separate the exhibits focusing on military history from those concentrating on local aviation, which include displays in the works on the Cleveland National Air Races (precursor to today's Cleveland National Air Show), Islands Air and the Tri-Motor.

The Tri-Motor was Ford's airborne version of his Model T, an attempt to bring air travel to the masses. Ford also is credited with developing the first modern airport, the first concrete runway and the first airport hotel, all in Dearborn, Michigan.

Island Airlines acquired its first Tri-Motor in 1946, and eventually had four in service. The planes held 10 passengers, plus a pilot and copilot.

Doug Moore, chief mechanic working on the museum's Tri-Motor restoration, said the aircraft was "like a school bus, only narrower."

The historic, flying bus has returned to Port Clinton. Nostalgic passengers and curious onlookers, no doubt, will follow.

Liberty Aviation Museum

Where: 3515 E. State Road, Port Clinton, about an 80-minute drive from Cleveland. Take Ohio 2 west to Ohio 53 north; turn left on E. State Road and the museum is on the right. 

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

How much: $5, free for ages 14 and underTin Goose Diner: The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner (7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday). Menu items include the B-25 (buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy) and the Tri-Motor Burger (with fried salami, bacon and provolone).

City of Wichita Ford Tri-Motor: The airplane will be based in Port Clinton, but will travel around the country, offering rides at air shows and other events. Call the museum or check the website for the airplane’s schedule. 

Information:libertyaviationmuseum.org, 419-732-0234 

Flying to the Lake Erie islands: You won’t travel in a historic Ford Tri-Motor, but Griffing Flying Service, which bought Island Airlines in the 1990s, offers regular flights to the islands from the Port Clinton airport. For information: 419-734-5400

More on the region:shoresandislands.com

Story and Photo Gallery:   http://www.cleveland.com

A restored World War II-era B-25 bomber, on display at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, features a devilish Helena on one side and angelic Angela on the other.