5, 2000, Pacific Wreck Database traveled to Reading to speak
with Mr. Gene Strine, vice-president of the Mid Atlantic
Air Museum. Mr.
Strine described one of two great adventures in his life: his service in the US Navy and his recovery of a P-61B from Irian Jaya.
Atlantic Air Museum members and its many
friends and supporters are determined to see this fascinating plane restored
to flying status. Much work and expense has been born to bring the P-61B
home. Much more lies ahead before this magnificent piece of history comes
to life. They ask all of you who share their love of aviation history and
would like to see this unique aircraft fly again to help with a donation
toward its restoration.
Mr. Strine decided, quite simply to "get
the plane" - its condition really didn't matter - this
P-61B was one of four remaining in the world, and Strine, who
has been working on these airplane all his life is confident
that they can create any missing part from scratch or blue
There it sat for over 40
years. The plane had come to rest at a steep angle high in
the mountains, and had set down on a firm base of rocks.
These factors contributed
to its excellent condition. The angle mean that the frequent
jungle rains drained through the plane, and did not collect
inside, thus reducing corrosion. The rocks protected the underbelly
from damage or from sinking into the ground, and limiting
vegetation growth from underneath.
The plane's unexposed surfaces were preserved
so well that one of the landing gear still had oil in it,
and air in the tire!
The wrecks location mean
that relatively few visited the out of the way site, thus
meaning fewer vandals, souvenir hunters, etc. Despite this,
the wreck must have been common knowledge to locals in the
area.. People's name were etched into the fighter's black
paint all over its surfaces, with accompanying dates that
ranged from the 70's through late 80's.
Some squares of aluminum
were missing from the craft where portions had been hacked
away as souvenir. Most of the instruments were missing, and
it appear someone else was attempting to recover the plane
prior to Gene's visit.
Over the course of six visits
to Indonesia, Gene recovered the entire plane. Virtually
no roads exist in the area, just the roads built by the
US Army and Japanese during the war. Not much had changed
in the area since the war, and of course Jayapura was no
tourist destination. There were no hotels or modern accommodations.
Gene stayed at a religious mission during his visits.
A chartered helicopter was
flown over the mountain site to air lift each piece from
the mountain to the Sentani airfield where they were placed
in a storage container.
There, the pieces awaited until
all of the wreckage was removed from the mountain and shipped
overseas to the United States in 1991. After the long sea
journey, the parts were shipped via truck to the museum
in Reading, PA where they now reside.
Gene described the condition
of the wreck to be excellent as far as he was concerned. And, regardless, he and the
other volunteers have the skill and know how to repair,
fabricate or replicate and part back at the museum in Reading.
Since 1991, the plane has been
under restoration. The fuselage's exterior has been almost
completely rebuilt. The wing nacelles are under construction.
Strine estimates that 65% of the orginal plane will be incorporated
into the restoration.