Sunday, August 13, 2017

WW II aircraft restored in Caldwell, Idaho

CALDWELL — In the world of fiction, Captain America fought bravely for the country until he was frozen then found decades later. In real life, Dottie Mae, a World War II warbird, had a similar fate.

The P-47 aircraft crashed in an Austrian lake and was found 60 years later.

After an extensive recovery process, in 2008, the plane was sold to Jack Croul who then brought it to Vintage Airframes in Caldwell.

In February 2009, began the restoration process of the only known P-47 plane from the war in existence. Eight years later, the vintage aircraft is now fully restored and has 26 flight hours recorded in its second life.

On Aug. 26 and 27, it will be unveiled publicly and flown again at the 2017 Warbird Roundup at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa. Lt. Larry Kuhl, who was Dottie's pilot will also be present at the event on Aug. 26.


On the morning of May 8, 1945, soldiers of the 511 Fighter Squadron were instructed to fly five flights through the Alps to celebrate liberation of a labor camp at Ebensee three days prior. Although the aircraft was assigned to Kuhl, on that fateful day, Lt. Henry Mohr was scheduled to fly Dottie Mae.

The team was flying at approximately 220 mph when Mohr decided to fly at a lower altitude than the rest of the team. Unfortunately after the formation broke, as was planned, Mohr hit a lake, crashing the Dottie Mae. He managed to survive, even as Dottie Mae sank out of sight, becoming the last known combat loss in the European theater of WWII. 

Two girls and a boy who were rowing their boats near the crash site helped Mohr survive before he lost consciousness.

The sinking of the Dottie Mae however ultimately aided in its survival. In the summer of 1945 the aircraft's counterparts, another 19 surviving P-47s, were all flown to Paris and scraped there while Dottie Mae remained in Lake Traunsee for 60 years waiting for its sequel.

Flash forward to June 2005 when Brian Kenney, who lives in California, put up the money to recover Dottie Mae. After extensive deep water searching, it was found lying upside down 230 feet below the surface.

Bob Nightingale, supervisor of the recovery project, said it wasn't an easy recovery.

“It was challenging to pull the plane out," he said. "The dive team could only stay about 20 minutes at a time at that depth, and it would take them about an hour to go up and down.”

Finally, after several days, the aircraft was lifted with balloons tied to its tail to ensure proper support. Two days later, it was being shipped back to the country, Nightingale said.

Dottie Mae arrived on a sea container in 2005 to Kenney's facility in Chino, California. Kuhl was the first person to step inside the plane, Nightingale said.


Kuhl's first airplane ride was in a World War I biplane, and it cost him $5, “which was a lot of money in those days,” he said, according to an interview published in the Warbird Digest's April 2010 edition. He was working at a factory making 50 cents an hour at the time. On March 23, 1942, after about 8 hours of instruction, Kuhl first flew solo.

He was sent to Goxhill, England, in May 1944 and he flew his first combat mission on Oct. 2, 1944.

The artwork on the plane was done by Samuel Kirchenbaum who based it on the December 1945 pin-up girl of the Vargas calendar. It was named after Kuhl's first wife Dottie Mae.

The P-47 Dottie Mae was the “first big radical engine aircraft,” that Kuhl had flown. He was “disgusted,” that Mohr had been assigned to his plane and that it had crashed, while Kuhl himself was assigned an old “Razor Back” P-47 during that fateful mission, according to the interview. 

In 1991, Kuhl got to meet Mohr at a retiree convention in Las Vegas and ask what “hitting the water felt like.” Mohr pointed at a block wall and said, “Run just as fast as you can into it and that's what it felt like.”

When Kuhl first heard of the plane's recovery, he said in the interview that he thought it was a “wild idea.”


Dottie was built in Evansville, Indiana, in 1944 and was one of the 1,028 D-28 aircraft to be manufactured there. In mid October that year, Dottie was shipped off to England. 

According to Allied Fighters' website, the restoration team wanted to “preserve as much of the existing air-frame as possible.”

When the plane was recovered, it had “nine garbage cans of mud,” inside it, said Mike Breshears, owner of Vintage Airframes who led the restoration project.

It took 52,000 man hours of work and when the restoration was completed, Breshears said he was “overwhelmed.”

About 55 percent of Dottie Mae is still its original parts, Breshears said.

For Nightingale, the recovery process warranted a celebration.

“It is an incredible piece of history ... We broke open a bottle of Cognac and celebrated,” when the project was completed, he said.

If you go

Event: Warbird Roundup 2017: An annual gathering of famous WWII airplanes held at the Warhawk Air Museum. This year's event will feature the first time public unveiling of Dottie Mae, since its restoration along with a P-38 Lightning, 0-1 Bird Dog and more.

Dottie Mae's pilot Kuhl will also be at the event.

Guest Speaker: Bob Cardin of Glacier Girl restoration fame.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug 26 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug 27

Where: Warhawk Air Museum

201 Municipal Dr.

 Nampa, ID

Ticket prices: General admission - $20

Senior Citizens/Military - $18

Kids (ages 5 - 12) - $10

Tickets are available online on the museum's website.

Story and photo gallery ➤

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello there,

thank you for the great article about Dottie Mae!
Please note that the first privat owner of Dottie Mae was the Austrian Wolfgang Falch.
His 2 year efforts to find the plane lead finally to success. It was entirly his project after the D Day Museum in New Orleans had initiated the search.
Only after the museum had dropped out, Mr. Kenney was invited to participate.
The entire search and recovery was organzied and directed by Mr Falch, SANDY AIR CORP. After the plane was recovered, Bob Nithingale took over the dismantling of the airframe.
Best regards,
W Falch