Following a nine-year restoration effort by the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan, the Yankee Lady will pay a visit to New Jersey’s Cape May Naval Air Station from June 10-12.
The B-17 has been well cared for, benefiting from hangar storage and meticulous tuning that have kept it in excellent flying condition. The four-engine Flying Fortress has been under the watchful eye of Norm Ellickson and Paul Hekala, B-17 Crew Chief and Chief Mechanic, respectively.
Ellickson says that the Yankee Lady has clocked over 2,500 hours of flight time over the course of its life, averaging 150 miles per hour. “That’s about 375,000 miles, or nearly 15 times around the world, without any serious problems,” he adds. Her pristine condition can be attributed to the diligence of her caretakers, as well as the fact that she has only flown peacetime missions. By the time Yankee Lady was built in 1945 (by Lockheed’s Vega Division), World War II was already winding down and she was among the last B-17s delivered to the US Army Air Force.
Ellickson and others managed to raise $250,000 to purchase the aircraft back in 1986. The last two decades of living with the plane have been both challenging and rewarding for Hakala. “I’m impressed,” he says, “with the technology of the late 1930s and how much thought went into this craft. It’s well built and should last many more years. One challenge I’ve found is finding replacements for damaged or worn parts. However, depending on the part, the museum’s skilled craftsmen are able to either repair or fabricate new ones.”
At 36,000 pounds (or 18 tons), recent work to replace the brakes wasn’t an easy feat. The plane needed to be raised and placed on jack stands to remove the wheels. For Hakala, though, the most gratifying work done to the bomber was repainting the tail and wing tips to honor the original colors of the 381st Bombardment Group.
Each flight of the Flying Fortress requires about $3,500 in fuel alone, but the cost and effort to keep her running is validated each time a veteran reconnects with her at an airshow.