Fagen Fighters’ Hellcat Wins Top Awards at Oshkosh

Aircorps Art Dec 2019

by Anna Mc Cosh – Fagen Fighters WWII Museum

The restoration of Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat BuNo.78645 Death N’ Destruction has been a full journey – far too full to squeeze into this small article. Suffice to say, this adventure has been full of moments both big and small, frustrations and smiles, hard work and diligence, not to mention hundreds of cross-country telephone calls… but perhaps the most meaningful aspect has been the new friendships. Fagen Fighters and Fighter Rebuilders have formed a band – like brothers – through their shared desire to get this Hellcat flying again.

Without a doubt, the glue in this bond has been WWII Navy Ace, Don McPherson. Once Evan Fagen connected with Don, it was clear that this plane was going to come out painted like the one McPherson flew in the war – Death N’ Destruction – but there was now a race against time. Anticipation built up along every part of the journey. From the beginning, everyone was eager to get another Hellcat in the air, but the focus expanded once Don stepped into the frame. The new aim was now to both get the plane finished and for Don to see it. January 3rd, 2021 was a big day, because the Hellcat made its first test flight. So one major step was completed – but now came the anticipation of getting the fighter to Don. After a few additional weeks to complete some minor adjustments following that first flight, the Hellcat was finally ready to make the trek to see Don!

On Sunday, March 28th, Steve Hinton Jr. flew the powerful machine from Chino, California to Beatrice, Nebraska – where Don McPherson would see the Hellcat fly and take hold of the stick for the first time since WWII. That was a great day, but again, the anticipation didn’t fade. Instead, our attention now turned to bringing the Hellcat and Don to EAA AirVenture where they would feature in Warbirds In Review – and where Death N’ Destruction would undergo judging. Boy – what a joy this last week has been reuniting with the warbird community and seeing Don with this plane again. The hard work, time, and energy involved have been utterly worthwhile. Our Hellcat receiving the Grand Champion WWII Warbird award while Fighter Rebuilders collected the Golden Wrench award was, and is, utterly momentous. The words ‘honored’ and ‘humbled’ sum up our emotions…

Don, Evan, and Steve Jr. experienced a unique journey together, one which most people aren’t fortunate to have in a lifetime, so there truly is something special about it. The three men, separated by generations, became close friends. Don shared his real-life wartime encounters with a younger generation, Evan and Steve Jr., as they diligently restored an aircraft so significant to both Don and to history. In return, Evan and Steve Jr. will share Don’s life encounters with the next generations. When Death N’ Destruction’s engine roars as she whistles through the air, Don’s memory and his sacrifices for freedom will live on and, hopefully, inspire future generations. The coolest thing about the journey is that it’s not over. Although the anticipation cycle mat have ended, the bonds remain firm and their purpose stays true. Our turn to continue sharing stories is just beginning…

Be sure to follow the F6F-5 Hellcat on Fagen Fighter’s Instagram and Facebook and to give Fighter Rebuilders and Planes of Fame a like/follow too!

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