Boeing B-47 restoration at Kansas Museum

Dave Williams/The Wichita Eagle photo
Byron Baker with Belger Cartage directs crane operators at the Kansas Aviation Museum as they lower a B-47 from cribs it was on for restoration to the ground where it will be displayed.

BY grant guggisberg
The Wichita Eagle

More than five decades after it was built for the United States Air Force, one Boeing B-47 Stratojet is a step closer to being restored.

The bomber is on display at the Kansas Aviation Museum, 3550 George Washington Blvd., less than a mile from the factory where it was built.

Museum officials spent Thursday morning moving the plane off of supports that held it while it was being restored.

“Last spring we started rebuilding the plane,” said Lon Smith, executive director of the museum. “Now that we have most of the reassembly done, we are going to lift the whole plane up, remove the supports, and then put it down on the ground.”

The plane was lifted by two large cranes and hung in the air for several minutes while workers removed the supports.

“The thing that’s really cool about it is, how often do you see a huge plane like that lifted by two cranes?” he said.

Smith said some final assembly and a fresh paint job are required before the project is complete.

Getting the plane from the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in Oklahoma City, where it was last displayed, to Wichita was no easy task. The plane was set to be removed because the fairgrounds needed more space.

“We got a call on it and had 30 days to come get it, or they would destroy it,” said Tim Bonnell, president of the museum’s executive board. “So it took a lot of hard work from volunteers and donations to make it happen.”

Bonnell said that they had to remove both wings to move the plane to Wichita.

“Normally, it’s about a 125-mile drive from there to here, but they had to take back roads all the way up,” Bonnell said. “They ended up taking about a 500-mile road course to get it up here because it was too tall for the bridges on the interstate.”

Funding for the project came mostly from a $40,000 contribution from local businessman Brad Murray, who was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago and died April 24 at the age of 60.

The bombers were first delivered in 1954, and most were retired from service by the late 1960s.

“A few of them hung on through the early 1970s and became special-purpose airplanes,” Walt House, volunteer curator of the museum, said. “This one here was a WB-47, converted over for reconnaissance.”

The “W” stands for weather, but House said the planes were used for more than that.

“They flew secret missions over the arctic and Siberia, listening to things they weren’t supposed to and taking air samples,” he said. “At around 40,000 feet, this plane was faster than most of the fighters of its day.”