February 22, 2011

Kansas Aviation Museum won't keep B-29 named 'Doc'

The historic B-29 airplane known as "Doc" won't be returning to the Kansas Aviation Museum.

The historic B-29 airplane known as "Doc" won't be returning to the Kansas Aviation Museum.

Lon Smith, the museum's executive director, said Tuesday that many visitors didn't realize "Doc" was on loan and owned by a resident of Cleveland, Ohio.

The owner, Tony Mazzolini, could not guarantee the airplane would stay at the museum for more than two years, Smith said. So the museum abandoned plans for a permanent hangar last summer.

"Doc" remains in Wichita as restoration of the 1945 plane continues, piece by piece.

Earlier this month, the museum filed court papers asking permission to redistribute about $23,000 in funds given to the "Doc" hangar for other projects.

Smith said plans to build a permanent home for the plane named after the "Snow White" character came close to completion before falling apart in August.

With help of local investors, Smith said, the museum secured a $500,000 loan to be repaid in five years.

The museum, with an annual budget of $350,000, found a designer, established plans, secured building and historical restoration permits and was ready to build the hangar.

"We wanted a commitment to keep the plane at the museum for 10 years," Smith said. "But the owner would only to guarantee two years."

Mazzolini, 76, said he wanted "Doc" to fly, not sit in Wichita.

"It was meant to be a working plane that we could fly around the country and let people see as a part of history," Mazzolini said. "It shouldn't be a static exhibit."

Not knowing when the plane would be available for viewing made the hefty investment less enticing to the museum, Smith said.

"When you're dealing with businesses they want sure things — not maybes," Smith said.

John Shark, one of the Wichita volunteers who has helped work on the restoration the past eight years, said flying the plane adds costs to housing it.

"If you're talking about building a hangar for a plane that's going to sit full of gas and be flying compared to just sitting, then it's about double the cost," Shark said.

The aviation museum had collected more than $41,000 in donations. Many were made in such small amounts it was impossible to track the donors, court records say.

Donors gave permission for about $17,000 to be used for other purposes.

Those include refurbishing buildings on 15 acres being donated by Spirit, which will house other museum restoration projects. Those facilities will free archive and exhibit areas in the main museum, Smith said.

One donor asked for $1,000 to be returned.

The museum is asking a Sedgwick County District Court judge to release the restrictions on the remaining funds, for which donors couldn't be identified.

Smith said the museum still provides free storage and office space for the U.S. Aviation Museum, a nonprofit organization overseeing the "Doc" restoration.

Work such as re-skinning wings and rebuilding seats is underway in other locations, Shark said. The plane is in a secure area where volunteers can't work on it.

Mazzolini said the plane is in storage on one of the properties owned by Spirit, Boeing or McConnell Air Force Base.

But the restoration needs a temporary hangar where crews can access it to replace a right wing spur cap that's essential to getting the plane off the ground.

"If we had everything we needed, we could finish this in less than two years," Shark said.

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