Taking the Lacey Lady from roadside attraction to flying museum

The Lacey Lady flying over The Bomber gas station in Milwaukie.

Years have passed since Oregonians have seen The Lacey Lady, a World War II-era bomber that used to float above McLoughlin Blvd in Milwaukie.

The family that owns The Bomber restuaruant, where the bomber was perched, say they still hear from people who miss it.

"I do too,” says Punky Scott. Her father Art Lacey, who passed away in 2000, brought the plane to Milwaukie. Punky still works at The Bomber restaurant, on the plot where the plane was once located. “But if we didn't do something with it, it was going to fall down out there."

The Lacey Lady now in pieces in an airplane hanger. Art's family is restoring the old warplane to flying condition.

The last time the bomber flew was 70 years ago, when Art Lacey bought it and flew it to Oregon. Which he did on a bet.

At his birthday party back in 1947, Art Lacey told a friend about his plan to buy a B-17 bomber, bring it to Oregon and place it above his gas station. Art’s friend bet him $5 that he couldn’t do it.

Art decided to leave that night.

Before he could leave, Art had one minor problem to address -- he didn’t have nearly enough money to buy a B- 17. Luckily, one of the guests at his birthday party known as “The Pinball King” of Clackamas County, just happened to have $15,000 cash on him at the time. Art borrowed the money, and used it to get his B-17.

Actually, he ended up buying two. Only the second one made it back to Oregon. Art crashed the first one.

Once in Oklahoma, Art paid the War Assets Administration $13,750 for a surplus B-17. They had a field of them in Oklahoma that people could buy and fly home.

The War Assets Administration required Art to have a copilot to fly the plane away. Having traveled all the way to Oklahoma solo, Art had no one to take. So he dressed up a mannequin, propped it on the co-pilot’s chair and prepared for his test flight.

After reading the plane’s manual for a bit (Art was a pilot, but had zero experience flying B-17s), he figured he was ready to fly. The take-off was a success and he flew the plane just fine, but he did not stick the landing. One of the landing gears jammed, so Art had no choice but to belly-land the bomber on the airfield. Art didn’t get hurt in the crash landing, but he did crash into another parked B-17.

Now forced to admit the obvious, Art owned up to the fact that he didn’t know what he was doing when it came to flying B-17s. A man working at the War Assets Administration took pity on him, and asked Art how much money he had left.

He then sold Art a second B-17 – the one that eventually became the Lacey Lady – for $1,500. Art then called in a couple of friends with experience flying B-17s, and they took the plane back to Oregon.

Seventy years later, The Lacey Lady is dismantled in a hangar at McNary Field in Salem. Art Lacey’s family is now few years and a half million dollars deep into the restoration process. They invested $500,000 of their own money into the restoration, but the project quickly became cost-prohibitive.

So the family started a nonprofit called The B-17 Alliance to see the project through.

Jayson Scott, Art Lacey’s grandson and the director/CEO of The B-17 Alliance, started the painstaking restoration process, a little by accident. He was doing the routine annual cleaning of the bomber before their Fourth of July festivities, and noticed the plane needed some extra attention. So he climbed aboard and started scrubbing.

“That ended up being a several month-long project,” Jayson said.

The more time Jayson spent inside the plane cleaning, the more it became clear that the Lacey Lady was on its way to deteriorating beyond repair.

The years that the bomber spent as a roadside attraction had not been kind to the old plane. Jayson estimates that a million people walked through the bomber when the family allowed the public to climb inside. The plane sat exposed to the elements for decades, subjected to whims of birds and vandals, as well as every wind storm, downpour, blizzard, and heatwave since 1947.

“I went to the family and I said, ‘I think there are some things that we need to address, if we’re going to have the plane be around for a long period of time,’” Jayson said.

Jayson hopes the process of getting the bomber flight ready again will take a total of 12 years. But whether the restoration can get done in that time, or even at all, comes down to money. And Jayson says funds will be a limiting factor.

Another challenge for Jayson is finding replacement parts for the 70-year-old bomber. Most B-17 parts aren’t manufactured anymore. The pieces that Jayson needs have to be either custom-fabricated or salvaged from other planes, which means Jayson and his crew at The B-17 Alliance spend a lot of time searching for replacement parts.

"I still have this recurring dream that I end up in this field and there's airplane parts for the B-17 just lying there. Hasn't happened yet,” Jayson said.

This weekend, the public can see the restoration in progress for themselves. The family opened the B-17 Alliance Museum & Restoration Hangar at McNary Field, where you can see the work being done right now on the Lacey Lady. Along with the restoration, the museum has a number of engaging displays telling the personal story of local WWII vets.

Keeping WWII history alive is the main motivation for Art Lacey’s family to spend all the time and money to get The Lacey Lady back in the air. They intend to make the bomber a flying interactive museum, that will travel the country telling the personal stories of WWII vets.

The B-17 Alliance is holding a fundraiser for the restoration project this weekend, at the annual B-17 Alliance Fly-In & Warbirds Over The West. Here are the details from their website.

From The B-17 Alliance:

Friday, June 9

5:00 - 8:30 pm

Get the weekend off to a great start by joining us for dinner on Friday. Erickson Aviation will fly in for guests to marvel over their P-38 and P-51 aircraft. Historians, pilots, Alliance crew members, and an exclusive vintage collectibles auction will entertain guests over a delicious meal served by The Bomber Catering Company. No host beer and wine bar.

• Dinner tickets: $25 per person (sold out)

Saturday, June 10

9:00 am - 7:00 pm

Gates open at 9:00 am for a day filled with exciting activities. View a wide variety of aircraft and classic cars, participate in a living history encampment, view military vehicles, tour our history museum and get a close-up view of the Lacey Lady. While you’re at it, enjoy a delicious pancake breakfast, barbecue, and Santiam Brewery tent. There’s even a raffle for a ride in a classic P-51 aircraft! Sorry, airport rules prohibit pets (except service animals).

• Saturday admission: $10/person (purchase at gate)

• Cruise-in: $15/car & driver

• Fly-in: Registration required; no fee for plane & pilot

• Additional cruise-in/fly-in guests: $10/person

• Raffle ticket for P-51 plane flight: $30

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