By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
An Enid group that has restored a World War II-era A-26 Invader recently was honored.
The Lady Liberty group was awarded the 2012 Commemorative Air Force Distinguished Unit Citation at the Commemorative Air Force Winter Conference in Midland, Texas.
“It was definitely a surprise to the group. It’s quite an honor, because there are quite a number of Commemorative Air Force groups in the U.S. It’s a pretty nice honor,” said Dee Ann Ediger, Enid CAF board member.
The criteria for the award is to have consistently demonstrated extraordinary, meritorious and exceptional service to the Commemorative Air Force. The Enid-based group, led by CAF Col. Ken Larcher, was presented the award in part to significant improvements in its operations in 2012.
Lady Liberty arrived at Enid Woodring Regional Airport June 23, 2012, relocating from Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City. The citation mentioned the ability of the group to move the plane from the Wiley Post hangar to Enid, 80-miles away, when faced with the loss of its Wiley Post Airport hangar. The aircraft and support equipment were moved to Enid.
Its new home is the original Woodring Municipal hangar, built in the 1940s, and the round-top style of the hangar fits in well with the vintage of the aircraft, Ediger said. The crew plans to make improvements to the hangar, which will include a museum, officers club, flag pole and WWII-era art on the outside of the building. An east-facing entrance has been planned, which will make for easy access for visitors to the Vietnam Memorial Wall replica at Woodring when it arrives. The A-26 hangar is directly across the street from the Vietnam Wall site.
A crew from Oklahoma City drives to Enid every weekend to work on the aircraft, along with a number of volunteers and CAF members from the Enid area. The plane is undergoing annual maintenance and inspection in Hangar 11 at Woodring.
“Ours is the oldest flying A-26 in the CAF. It’s the only one with operational bomb bay doors,” Ediger said. “The Guthrie group has one that doesn’t fly; there’s still a lot of restoration to do. (The) Dallas-Fort Worth (group) should fly this summer for air shows,” Ediger said.
She said the three groups, Guthrie, Dallas-Fort Worth and Enid, are working together to coordinate pilot and crew training. By doing that, they can exchange pilots or crew, if needed.
The Lady Liberty was taken out of military service, then used as a Forestry Department tanker. It was sold for private use in the 1970s and eventually placed in storage, where it went unused for a number of years, Ediger said. Then it was sold to a private individual and eventually donated to the CAF, and restoration began.
The winter months are spent doing annual inspection. The CAF has sponsorships available for all the planes it owns, to help restore them to flying condition. Once in condition, the aircraft perform in air shows, and are used as static displays and to sell rides. Each CAF group is responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft. Groups receive some income from air shows and tours, but heavily rely on donations to keep the planes flying, Ediger said.
The aircraft owned by Enid CAF is the oldest flying Invader, Ediger said. It was the 130th one produced, and was accepted Aug. 18, 1944, at Long Beach, Calif. It was flown to Great Dunnow, England on Sept. 20, 1944, where it was assigned to the 9th Air Force.
The USAF Historical Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base does does have specific unit history of the aircraft.
Anyone interested in the Commemorative Air Force can go to a26ladyliberty.com.