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Dream of making World War II era plane fly in Oklahoma unites aviation fans

The project that was started in 1999 is nearing completion.
BY MATT PATTERSON Modified: January 29, 2013 at 7:56 pm •  Published: January 30, 2013

— When the A-26 Invader light bomber now sitting in a hangar at a Guthrie airport finally takes to the sky it won't exactly be a miracle, but it will be a testament to the value of people working together for a common goal.

The World War II era A-26 was acquired by the Sierra Hotel Group of the Commemorative Air Force in Arkansas in 1999. It was brought to Wiley Post for a few years before being moved to the Guthrie airport.

The vintage aircraft has become a magnet of talent and time. The restoration group, made up of about 48 members, has logged 28,500 hours working on the plane that was essentially rebuilt from scratch.

The group has spent nearly $500,000. Some of the money comes from contributions and grants. But the labor is all theirs. And there is still a lot of work to be done. The group hopes to have the plane flying within 18 months to two years.

So what keeps them coming back every Saturday?

“We ask ourselves that a lot,” retired Air Force Col. Rick Hudlow said. “It's a museum piece on its own. It has a history. This airplane in particular has an interesting story. We looked at it as a heckuva challenge, and we wanted to fly it.”

Hudlow, 87, flew during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. At one point he flew with actor Jimmy Stewart during Stewart's time as a reservist after World War II.

“Having him on base was a lot of fun, particularly on Friday afternoon at happy hour,” Hudlow said. “He knew every dirty RAF and Air Force song ever written, and he would play the piano with two fingers and sing.”

Tom Parsons, 70, spent his career at Tinker Air Force Base as a structural repair mechanic before retiring last year. Most Saturdays he's at the hangar in Guthrie by 7:30 a.m. Like the rest of the group, he'll work for 12 hours, breaking only for lunch and the occasional story.

“It's a whole lot of fun,” Parsons said. “I'm dead tired when I get home, but when I was working at Tinker I was more exhausted mentally because, believe it or not, some government jobs are stressful. I come here on Saturday morning and it feels like 15 minutes go by and it's time to go home.”

When Parsons talks about seeing the plane fly his eyes light up.

“When you hear those engines fire up it's like magic,” he said. “There's no other sound like it in the world.”

The plane that inspired their work and passion has a unique history. It was made in 1945 by Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa. Later it was deployed in Korea and again in Vietnam when it was leased to the French military during their involvement in what would become the Vietnam War.

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