Interview with Robert Greinert

The Recovery of Lutes' P-47
Robert Greinert, of HARS and owner of several WWII Pacific aircraft previously recovered from New Guinea does an interview related to the recovery of P-47D 42-22687 flown by Marion Lutes.

P-47D Thunderbolt Serial Number 42-22687

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All photos by Peter Salomon, via Robert Grienert.  Used with premission

Tell why was this aircraft was selected for recovery
TWO MAJOR REASONS FOR RECOVERY: A) THE LUTES AIRCRAFT PROVIDED A STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO RECOVER AN INTACT P47 FORWARD FUSELAGE SECTION THAT HAD ALL THE COCKPIT FURNITURE AND ELECTRICAL/HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS INTACT. A TIME CAPSULE. SO TO SPEAK.

REBUILDING A P47 RAZORBACK TO CORRECT MANUFACTURERS AND MILITARY CONFIGURATION IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. ITS A VERY BIG JIG SAW PUZZLE AND THIS SHOULD GIVE US MOST OF THE MISSING PIECES. WE WILL NOW BE ABLE TO COMPLETE THE RESTORATION OF OUR TWO THUNDERBOLTS TO "DEAD STOCK" CONFIGURATION UTILISING THE AIRCRAFT AS THE THREE DIMENSIONAL BLUE PRINT.

SEVERAL COMPONENTS, FOR EXAMPLE, THE HYDRAULIC AND OIL TANKS ARE COMPLICATED PIECES THAT CANNOT BE BUILT FROM AVAILABLE PLANS AND MANUALS. MY ENGINEERING STAFF HAD REQUESTED ACTUAL SAMPLES BE SUPPLIED PRIOR TO MANUFACTURING NEW UNITS. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO DISMANTLE THE AIRCRAFT FOR DIRECT PARTS USAGE. IT WILL BE LEFT INTACT AND USED AS A PATTERNS/REFERENCE SOURCE

PLEASE NOTE; THIS INFORMATION IS NOT AVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD. MANUALS AND DRAWINGS DONT GIVE EVERYTHING REQUIRED AND MOST OF THE SURVIVORS HAVE BEEN SUBSTANTIALLY ALTERED OR MODIFIED POST WAR.

B) THE ADDITTIONAL CONCERN WAS THAT THE WRECK WAS IN DANGER OF SLIDING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. I FIRST BECAME AWARE OF THE WRECK IN 1992 AND WAS STUNNED BY THE PHOTOS SHOWN TO ME BY RICHARD LEAHY AT HIS HOUSE IN 1996.

RICHARD HAD ADVISED AT THE TIME THAT THE AIRCRAFT HAD DISAPEARED IN A LANDSLIDE AND THIS WAS SUBSEQUENTLY CONFIRMED IN THE PRESS. IN 2003 A FRIEND OF MINE WAS TRAVELLING THROUGH THE AREA IN A HELICOPTER.

USING RICHARDS GPS COORDINATES HE DECIDED TO SEE IF ANYTHING COULD BE SALVAGED FROM THE PERCIEVED MESS FOR OUR RESTORATION IN SYDNEY. IMAGINE OUR SUPRISE WHEN IT WAS FOUND TO BE STILL INTACT. I WONT DWELL ON THE REASONS WHY RICHARD PROMOTED THE LANDSLIDE STORY.

FOLLOWING OUR FIRST LANDING AT THE SITE, IT BECAME QUICKLY APPARENT THAT THE AIRCRAFT WAS IN DANGER OF HEADING DOWN THE 70 DEGREE PLUS SLOPE FOR A DISTANCE OF SOME 2000 FEET.

AS YOU CAN SEE FROM THE PHOTOS THERE WAS NO SUPPORT UNDER THE FUSELAGE, THE ONLY CONTACT POINTS WITH THE EARTH BEING UNDER THE ENGINE AND THE RH WING STUB. THE WRECK VISIBLY MOVED WHEN I CLIMBED UP THE PORT SIDE TO TAKE PHOTOS OF THE COCKPIT. COMMERCIAL INTERESTS ASSOCIATED WITH A LAE BASED BUSINESS AND A MAJOR U.S. RESTORATION SHOP HAD MADE IT KNOWN THAT THEY WERE GOING UP THERE TO BRING IT OUT IN PIECES AS THE PARTS WERE WANTED.


Lutes is listed as MIA, what are your feelings about this?
WHENEVER WE PROPOSE THE SALVAGE OF A WRECK WE ALWAYS RESEARCH THE SUBJECT CAREFULLY TO MAKE SURE WE KNOW THE WHOLE STORY PRIOR TO RECOVERY.

IN MARION LUTES CASE WE WERE ABLE TO DETERMINE THAT CILHI (JPAC) VISITED THE SITE MORE THAN ONCE DURING THE 1990'S AND AT LEAST TWO COMMERCIAL HIRE OPERATIONS HAD BEEN TO THE SITE.

 

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Marion Lutes on the Tablets of the Missing as Missing in Action (MIA) American Cemetery, Manila

ON ONE OF THESE OCCASSIONS, PNG MUSEUM STAFF MEMBER SENEA GREH VISITED THE SITE. HIS OFFICIAL REPORT AT THE TIME STATES THAT THE VISITING TEAM HAD CAME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT LUTES HAD REMOVED HIMSELF FROM THE AIRCRAFT AND HAD DEPARTED THE AREA. FURTHER INVESTIGATION WAS NOT REQUIRED.

IN 1998, RICHARD LEAHY TOOK FRED HAGAN TO THE SITE AND OPENED RATIONS WERE FOUND NEAR TO THE WRECK. LUTES MAY HAVE HAD A MEAL PRIOR TO EVACUATING THE AREA. LUTES DEFINATELY ESCAPED THE AIRCRAFT. THE CANOPY WAS JAMMED AND HAS DEFIED ALL EFFORTS TO OPEN IT TO DATE. BOTH EMERGENCY ESCAPE HATCH LEVERS IN THE COCKPIT HAD BEEN EXERCISED UPWARDS IN ORDER TO ALLOW THE SIDE PANELS OF THE CANOPY TO BE KNOCKED OUT FROM WITHIN. PLEASE NOTE, THIS CAN ONLY BE DONE FROM INSIDE THE AIRCRAFT.

THE LEFT EMERGENCY EXIT PANEL WAS KNOCKED OUT INDICATING ESCAPE. IT IS VERY UNLIKELY THAT HUMAN INTERFERENCE AT A LATER POINT OF TIME WOULD HAVE ACHIEVED THIS. APPROXIMATELY EIGHT WEEKS PRIOR TO THE RECOVERY OF THE WRECK, JPAC WERE NOTIFIED BY THEIR PNG REPRESENTATIVE OF THE PROPOSED RECOVERY. JPAC NEVER RESPONDED. ANYONE WHO HAD KNOWLEDGE OF THE SITE KNEW THAT LUTES HAD GOT OUT AND WAS MIA SOMEWHERE IN THE BUSH. THIS STORY IS BEST REMEMBERED BY PRESERVATION OF THE WRECK. HAVING IT TRASHED BY PARTS HUNTERS OR SEEING IT SLIDE DOWN THE HILL IS NOT THE BEST WAY TO REMEMBER THE 5TH AIR FORCE AND THOSE THAT SERVED.


Where will the aircraft be restored?
THE WRECK IS CURRENTLY IN OUR P47 RESTORATION WORKSHOP. THE PUBLIC IS ALWAYS WELCOME, ALTHOUGH BY APPOINTMENT. CONTRARY TO THE CURRENT RUMOUR MILL, THERE ARE NO PLANS TO RESTORE IT AT PRESENT ALTHOUGH THAT MAY CHANGE IN THE FUTURE. ITS REAL VALUE IS AS A MEMORIAL TO THE 5TH AIR FORCE AND THOSE THAT SERVED. THIS IS PEHAPS BEST ACHIEVED BY A RESTORATION.

 

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HARS, Sydney, Australia. Another ex-PNG P-47D 42-8066 is under restoration (Photo by Robert Greinert 2004)

What of the original markings?
OBVIOUSLY IT IS PLANNED TO PRESERVE THE ARTWORK AND MARKINGS BUT HOW THAT IS TO BE ACHIEVED IS YET TO BE DECIDED. WE ARE IN CONSULATION WITH SEVERAL MUSEUMS AND CONSERVATORS AT PRESENT AS TO WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST LONG TERM WAY TO ACHIEVE THIS.

Was cockpit of this aircraft remarkably intact?
APART FROM THE PILFERING OF THE GUNSIGHT, CONTROL STICK AND RADIO CALL SIGN PLATE, ITS LIKE IT ROLLED OUT OF THE FACTORY. OBVIOUSLY THERE IS SOME ROTTING ON THE PILOTS OXYGEN HOSE AND ELECTRICAL WIRE, SOME CORROSSION ETC. BUT OTHERWISE ITS ALL THERE. A PERFECT TIME CAPSULE.

Talk about the recovery operation
IT WAS A FAIRLY STRAIGHT FORWARD RECOVERY UTILISING A LAMA AND MIL 8 HELICOPTER. NOTHING EXTRAORDINARY TO REPORT. THE RECOVERY TEAM CONSISTED OF:

Lutes P-47 Recovery Team
Robert Greinert - Project Team Leader
Peter Salmon - Structures Specialist
Jason Cockayne - Engineering (LAME)
Alfred Hagen - Observer

Will any effort be made to contact the former pilot?
YES, THAT PROCESS IS ALREADY UNDER WAY

What will be the future of this aircraft?
A GOOD QUESTION. THERE ARE A LOT OF RUMOURS RUNNING AROUND AT THE MOMENT AND A LOT OF MISINFORMATION. ONCE WE HAVE COMPLETED OUR STUDY OF THE WRECK AND DUPLICATED THOSE COMPONENTS WE NEED TO COPY, THE WRECK WILL BE DONATED TO A SUITABLE HOME. ANY INDIVIDUALS, ORGANISATIONS OR MUSEUMS THAT FEEL THAT THEY WOULD BE CAPABLE OF DOING THE RIGHT THING BY THE WRECK ARE INVITED TO APPLY.

Anything else you would like to add?
THE SALVAGE OPERATION WAS OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED BY THE PNG MUSEUM AND AS ALWAYS THEY WERE PROVIDED WITH FULL DETAILS OF WHO, WHY, WHERE AND HOW IT WAS BEING DONE.

 

 

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Varga Girl Artwork

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Amazingly intact to this day.

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The fuselage is lifed in a sling by helicopter.

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Robert Greinert with PNG Museum's modern history curator, Mark Katakomb at the PNG Museum, August 2004


PREVIOUSLY I HAVE BEEN ASKED BY THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PNG NATIONAL MUSEUM TO ASSIST IN MATTERS THAT ALFRED HAGEN IS CURRENTLY NEGOTIATING ON. UNDER CONSIDERATION IS A VERY DIFFICULT RECOVERY IN A VERY INHOSPITABLE ENVIROMENT. IT INVOLVES HELICOPTERS AND A LONG STAY OUT IN A SWAMP [Recovery of B-17E 41-2446 "Swamp Ghost"].

HAGEN AND I WERE IN ATTENDANCE AT A MEETING IN PORT MORESBY LAST NOVEMBER AND I SUGGESTED HE ACCOMPANY US ON THIS P-47 SALVAGE TO GET AN IDEA OF WHAT WAS INVOLVED, ESPECIALLY THE HEARTBREAK FACTOR WHEN THINGS GO WRONG.

HE ACCEPTED THE INVITE AND SUBSEQUENTLY PROVED A MOST VALUABLE TEAM ASSET. WE ALL LEARNED A LOT FROM THIS EXERCISE AND WILL BE ABLE TO APPLY IT FOR FUTURE SALVAGES.

NO RENUMERATION IS BEING RECIEVED FOR SERVICES RENDERED BY EITHER PARTY.

Thank you for the interview, Mr. Greinert.