Excitement is building at the Air Zoo as they announce a competition of mass proportions to complete the restoration of the Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless (Bu. No. 2173) and the F-117 Nighthawk Shaba (tail number 817) in 2021.
Anyone who has visited the Air Zoo, or follows them on social media, knows that one of their most inspiring experiences is housed in the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center. Since 2013, the Air Zoo has proudly boasted one of the nation’s most recognized, and respected community-based aircraft restoration programs. The program has been hard hit by the pandemic, but restoration continues to advance, fueled by the passion of a talented staff and more than 75 volunteers, all of whom bring their unique expertise and dedication to the Air Zoo’s important work of bringing historic aircraft back to life.
The challenges that have accompanied the global pandemic have not been lost on this group of outstanding men and women. They have persevered through safety and policy changes, and a lengthened timeline brought on by a reduction in volunteers, and a shortage of materials, tools and financial support necessary to complete these projects. Volunteers and available hours have begun to pick back up and they are ready and raring to go, with two exciting and important deadlines to be met.
The Air Zoo’s restoration team, undaunted by the unexpected funding deficit, has not only continued their hard work on the aircraft but turned the deficit into a friendly competition and is inviting the public to join them. To complete the SBD and Nighthawk in 2021, it is critical that the Air Zoo raise the capital ($50,000 each) necessary to support the final phases of restoration including, but not limited to, the acquisition of finishing tools, parts fabrication, priming and painting. This is where community support is critical.
To join the challenge, the public is invited to make a tax-deductible gift to support the plane of their choice and the Air Zoo’s restoration team as they work diligently to cross the finish line. Every dollar counts in this monumental challenge! As Air Zoo volunteer and Team SBD leader, Terri Mucciante, shares “even my grandkids are donating $10 and $5. They love coming here and they love seeing this and so do all the other kids and families who come here.”
Learn more and join the challenge at airzoo.org/fund-your-favorite
The Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless (Bu. No. 2173) is a historic World War II Navy aircraft once thought lost forever in Lake Michigan.
An early version of the Dauntless (Bu. No. 2173) was delivered to the Navy as an SBD-2P photo-reconnaissance aircraft, of which only 14 were built. It boasts a most interesting history. For example, Bu. No. 2173 was erroneously designated lost at sea in 1942 but went on to fly in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The aircraft actually crashed into Lake Michigan on February 18, 1944, during a training exercise – presumably due to carburetor icing. The pilot, John Lendo, was not injured in the crash.
On June 6, 2009 Bu. No. 2173 was retrieved from Lake Michigan on behalf of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, then known as the Pacific Aviation Museum. Under an agreement between the Pacific Aviation Museum and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, SBD 2173 was to undergo an extensive restoration.
The Air Zoo’s Restoration Team received 2173 in July of 2016. Since then, more than 36,000 volunteer hours have been logged restoring this mighty aircraft. Upon completion, the SBD-2P (Bu. No. 2173) will return to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, as a national treasure! The goal is to have it completed and delivered by December 7, 2021 in time for their National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day celebrations. Discover more.
The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Shaba “landed” at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center December 7, 2020, after a more than 1,940-mile trek across the country. The Air Zoo is proud to possess one of the first F-117 Nighthawks released for public display at a non-government institution, as well as the only museum in the state of Michigan to exhibit one.
The backstory: In the early 1970s, the United States found itself vulnerable to new, advanced air-defense missile systems that integrated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and air-launched radar-guided missiles. To mitigate the threat, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a program to develop the technology and strategies necessary to reduce radar detectability in U.S. aircraft.
Lockheed Skunk Works was awarded the contract to produce the F-117 in November 1978, with the first flight taking place on June 18, 1981, just 31 months after winning the contract. Produced in true Skunk Works fashion – under absolute secrecy – the Nighthawk went on to play an important role in six operational missions including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991) alone, it flew an impressive 1,271 sorties with 80% mission success. Only one F-117 was ever lost in combat.
Shaba (tail number 817) first flew on January 8, 1986 and has just over 5,000 flight hours. The highly decorated Shaba is one 10 F-117s to fly at least 50 combat sorties and one of seven to fly in at least three of the four significant campaigns employing Nighthawks.
Volunteers at the Air Zoo’s Restoration Center have logged more than 2,800 hours restoring Shaba and plan to have leading edges fabricated, priming, painting and detailing done for her more permanent display in the main gallery of the Air Zoo’s Flight Innovation Center by year end. Discover more.
About the Air Zoo
Located at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage, MI 49002, the Air Zoo is a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace & science experience with over 100 rare air & space craft, inspiring interactive exhibits, indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, hands-on science-based education programs, and more. The Air Zoo is a not-for-profit organization and is open 360+ days per year.
For hours, tickets, safety policies and procedures as well as temporarily altered experiences due to COVID-19, visit airzoo.org/plan-your-visit.