Warplane, M.I.A. For 60 Years, Comes Home to WNY
The discovery of a long-lost P-39 Aeracobra is being called one of the most unique artifacts in aircraft history, and she has come home to WNY.
It was a journey that began christmas morning, 1943 in Wheatfield. A P-39 Airacobra, one of the 30,000 planes produced here in Western New York for the war effort, rolls from the hanger and takes off, headed west.
She was one of 10,000 planes, many from here in Western New York, that were sent to Russia. It was also a bit of WNY technology turned the tide against the Nazi's.
The P-39 was known as the "flying cannon". She was a force in the air. It was equipped with 2 machine guns in the wings, two more in the nose, a 37 mm cannon in the nose and a state of the art radio system.
But on a mission in 1944, this plane disappeared
Fast forward 60 years to July 2004. A fisherman on Lake Mart-Yavr in arctic Russia spotted something under the water.
A British warbird recovery team was called in and what they found was absolutely astounding.
The plane was recovered intact. The pilots remains, and medals were still in the cockpit, so was the plane's logbook.
That history has come full circle. Representatives of The Ira G. Ross Aerospace Museum went to Great Britain and bought the plane. The head conservationist at the Imperial War Museum in Britian told them this is a tremendous acquisition. Not only what was found, but also where it would be going. It is now being rehabbed in the very building in which it was built, the former Bell Aviation plant.
It is also a treasure-trove of tributes to the plane's history and the people who made it. An even more significant find came after one of the former Rosie the Riviters called up and said "do you know we used to write our names and addresses on parts of the planes?"
Sure enough, clear as a bell, they found the names Helen Rose on one piece, and Elenor Barbaritano on another. They were written in pencil, preserved like they were written this morning.
From the riviters' notes to the harrison radiator, this plane flew Western New York pride and craftsmanship to victory overseas, and now she's come back home.
For more information visit www.wnyaerospace.org
EAA Timeless Voices Program Coordinator & Museum Collections Assistant
"Let No Story Go Untold!"