Recovery & Restoration of P-61B "Midnight Queen"

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Cockpit, looking right

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Fuselage control cables

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Interior inside container

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Looking into cockpit

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Gene Strine with radar dish

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original 20mm cannons

On February 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.

The Mid 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.

Recovery
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 prints..

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.

Restoration
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.

 

 

 

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