ZEPHYRHILLS — Pieces of a World War II relic rolled into Zephyrhills Municipal Airport just after noon Wednesday on a flatbed trailer. Once affixed to a C-47 transport plane, the massive wings are now in pieces, peppered with dings and missing the war paint from their glory days.
All of that can be fixed. John Bolender sees the wings as the first parts of a rebuilt military plane that will put the city's World War II Barracks Museum on the map.
"We need a kind of a landmark out there," Bolender said of the museum, a former barracks from the Zephyrhills airport's days as a U.S. Army airfield.
The C-47 plane was manufactured in 1942 and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 8, 1943, according to records. It will be restored to represent a cargo plane of that period and prominently displayed in the parking lot of the museum. It will not be equipped to take flight again.
Bolender, a museum volunteer, waited nearly a year for the C-47 wings to arrive. The hope is that the fuselage will shortly follow.
The total cost of the project is expected to be about $10,000, Bolender said. The monetary donations aren't exactly pouring in, he said. So far, volunteers have collected about $2,000.
The aircraft was donated to Bolender, who donated it to the city, by Ron Hargrove, a fellow WWII re-enactor who owns the WWII Military Vehicle Federation Museum in Florala, Ala. Hargrove acquired the derelict plane, one of four donated to him, from the Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby, Miss. He personally delivered the wings to Zephyrhills on Wednesday.
A commercial forklift unloaded the wings, which will span a combined 95 feet once they're reassembled.
"They're war birds, and there are not many left in the U.S.," said Hargrove. He said he has been restoring another plane for two years to house at his museum.
One of the biggest challenges: finding parts.
The C-47 whose wings are now in Zephyrhills has several missing major components: doors, propellers, engines and flaps.
"People come from all over the United States to scavenge these planes to keep their own running," Hargrove told Bolender.
The main reason these men have taken on restoring the planes, they said, is to maintain history and keep the parts from becoming scrap.
Bolender plans to pound out the dings. Maybe he'll add a faux engine. And once the plane is reassembled, he plans to paint it in WWII-era colors.
"It's going to be gray on the bottom and olive drab on top," he said.
Then it will have "D-Day stripes," a series of alternating black and white stripes 18 inches wide, painted on part of the main wings.
"They painted them because they knew D-Day was going to be hectic and so we didn't shoot down our own planes," Bolender said.
The exact military history of this craft, aside from its delivery date, isn't yet known because military records are scarce. But volunteers are still researching it.
The aircraft belonged to the Army Air Forces for less than two years before American Airlines purchased it in 1945, and then it was sold to Ozark Airlines in 1953.
Bolender said he hopes to have the plane at least partially assembled in time for the museum's Pearl Harbor Day remembrance event in early December. He would like to have it rolled out in front of the museum for the day so that visitors can touch a piece of history.