Former crew members restore plane

Sunday, September 2, 2001

RANTOUL, Ill. -- Former crew members working on the old Willy Victor now grounded at Rantoul say the end of their mission is in sight.

And they understand its public relevance when Lincoln's Challenge participants based at the former Chanute Technical Training Center come over to ask why they're working so hard on a dilapidated airplane.

"They're teen-agers like most of us were then, and we were out protecting the world," said John Lukasiewicz, a retired Racine, Wis., resident who's one of the leaders of the campaign to restore the old WV-2 reconnaissance plane to its original condition.

"We flew war missions. We lost aircraft to our enemies. This aircraft is a great tool for us to get the word out so there's no gap in history," Lukasiewicz said.

Crews flying Lockheed WV-2s, called Willy Victors by their crews, put their lives on the line to safeguard national security during the Cold War. Former crew members from all over the country come to Chanute on scheduled summer weekends to work on the plane, which has been parked there since 1983 and was full of pigeon manure when the volunteers got permission last year to start their project. About 30 former crew members have been actively involved in the work so far.

"I retired and bought a computer," Lukasiewicz said. "I'd been looking for guys in phone books for years and never found one. I posted a message on a bulletin board for military contacts. I found one guy, then another, and now we have a list of 1,500 former squadron members."

Members of the cyberspace Willy Victor group decided to adopt the plane, Lukasiewicz said. Their current goal, painting the plane's exterior, is finally in sight. They've raised about $8,000 of the $10,000 they need to cover the cost, and they hope to start soon.

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