A Homeless Veteran of the Cold War

To be specific, the last B-36 Peacemaker built, right here in Fort Worth by the late Consolidated Aircraft Company. The “City of Fort Worth” was the last, and it has had a long and interesting life looking for a new home.

In the sidebar of this blog is a link to one of the groups trying to find a permanent, fitting home for this biggest of the cold warriors. A tour of their site will give you a feel for how much time and effort has been expended trying to get this big bomber a permanent home.

The B-36 holds a special place in my heart, as my dad spent the majority of his Air Force enlistment as the starboard scanner (gunner) in one, and I have fond memories of going through his squadron yearbooks with him, describing the life and times of the AF gunner.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has an article this week about the groups trying to find a good home for the old girl, and their failures to date. Many thanks to Lockheed for giving The City of Fort Worth a good face lift, but then they got a paying gig making F-35′s, so the bomber is back outside.

I’m going to put the whole article in the extended entry as the Star-Telegram doesn’t archive well.

Posted on Mon, May. 31, 2004
STILL HOMELESS

The last B-36 Peacemaker bomber built in Fort Worth sits in pieces, victim of lack of funds for a museum

By Chris Vaughn

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH – With more engines than a dirt track on Friday night and more wingspan than a Tokyo-bound 747, the B-36 Peacemaker was designed to cow the Soviets.

But the 1940s bomber has done so much more. The colossal airplane has also managed to confound the men who flew it, built it and admired it.

Eight years after its restoration from near-ruin and 15 years after fund-raising began for an aviation museum in Tarrant County, the “City of Fort Worth” B-36 is still looking for a home.

“Everybody is frustrated by that,” said Doug Harman, president of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Everybody is sincerely interested in getting a museum. But the fact of the matter is, getting the millions of dollars to build a facility is extremely difficult.”

Stuck in a tug-of-war for four years between two groups of local aviation supporters, the B-36 sits outside, in pieces and covered by tarps at Lockheed Martin’s west side facility.

On one side is the Fort Worth Aviation Heritage Association, which hopes to put the B-36 at a visitors center and museum planned for the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. D/FW, they say, is the best hope for a large museum that would attract big crowds and widespread area support.

On the other is the B-36 Peacemaker Museum Inc., a group campaigning to move the airplane to either Alliance Airport or Spinks Airport. Members of this group don’t want the plane stored outside at D/FW or moved anywhere outside Fort Worth.

The problem is that neither group can afford a building to house the giant.

“Neither AHA or us has enough to do it on our own,” said Bill Guy, a retired Air Force brigadier general who leads the Peacemaker Museum group. “All we can do is supplement someone else’s funds.”

The 10-engine, 162-foot-long B-36 is one of four left from the aircraft’s brief stint in the 1940s and ’50s Cold War, when it served as a long-distance bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The aircraft, the last manufactured at what was then called Consolidated Vultee, was saved from relocation to South Dakota in 1992 by Pete Geren, then a congressman.

Overshadowed by more recognizable aircraft produced locally — the B-24, F-16 and Huey helicopter, for example — the B-36 has still taken on enormous significance for a group of retirees, not least because they spent 44,000 hours restoring it.

It was supposed to be the granddaddy in an aviation museum spearheaded by the Aviation Heritage Association, which hosts the annual International Airshow at Alliance every autumn.

But 15 air shows later, AHA is financially no more able to build a showcase museum than when it formed. Instead, the group wants to hitch its plans to those of D/FW Airport and has committed $1 million to the concept.

The rub for the B-36 Peacemakers Museum group is that the plane would be displayed outside, at least until money could be raised for a large enough building.

“We think it’s the best site for a world-class museum,” said Melvin Haas, chairman of the AHA. “Millions of people would have an opportunity to see it. The schools would go crazy over it.

“What we need to do is start a museum and put the B-36 on point, where everybody could see it and we would have an opportunity to raise more funds.”

As the years passed and a museum never drew any closer to reality, the group of B-36 restorers — mostly 70- and 80-something years old — grew increasingly restive and bitter.

They started their own museum effort, focused entirely on the B-36.

“We just stepped away from” the AHA, Guy said. “They weren’t willing to work with anyone, and the guys couldn’t figure out why the museum had no more money than it did in the mid-’90s.”

Indeed, the AHA said it had $1.5 million in 1996. In 1998, it reported $946,000 in assets to the Internal Revenue Service. Currently, Haas said, the organization has $1.4 million.

The air show, he said, costs at least $450,000 to put on, and many of the tickets to the air show go for free or at reduced cost to corporate sponsors.

“It’s certainly not the big moneymaker we thought when we first started this,” Haas said. “It does bring attention of the aviation importance of this area.”

Last year, Fort Worth initiated a site survey committee to study options at Meacham, Alliance and Spinks airports. But that committee, headed by Fort Worth City Councilman Chuck Silcox, has been on hold recently.

“That plane was born in Fort Worth, and I would like to see it stay in Fort Worth,” Silcox said. “But the city has got no money to put into it, so we’re not exactly in the driver’s seat of where it should go.”

The Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio owns the airplane and will ultimately have authority to approve or reject any site.

Last year, retired Maj. Gen. Charles Metcalf, the head of the Air Force Museum, clearly wanted more cooperation between the groups, but he was unwilling to force it.

“Both groups would like me to take a side, and I refuse to,” Metcalf said. “That’s a Dallas-Fort Worth issue. The airplane deserves to be in Dallas-Fort Worth. I just keep encouraging them to resolve it among themselves. I don’t have any druthers where it is located.”
ONLINE: www.aviationheritagemuseum.com and www.b-36peacemakermuseum.org
Chris Vaughn, (817) 390-7547 cvaughn@star-telegram.com


Comments

  1. Flighterdoc says:

    I’ve got a soft spot for -36′s too. My father joined the AF as a 17 year old immigrant non-citizen, became a radio operator on -36s and eventually became a General Officer in the AF, flying in SAC and building missiles in Systems Command.

    It’s one big airplane. I remember seeing it as I’d fly over the airport there in Ft Worth.

    I Hope that it gets a good display home.

  2. When I was a kid in Ft. Walton Beach, I use to remember the feeling from a flight of B-36 as they flew over; you first felt the vibration in the air, then the ground and finally in your ears as they went past, if was an amazing feeling.

    My father took me to a “fire power” demostration when I was about 9 and the sight of all those bombs falling and hitting the ground scared the bejesus out of me.