Plane needs cleaning

The Lacey Lady will be restored at the Aurora State Airport.
The Lacey Lady has been stuck at an altitude of about 15 feet for nearly seven decades. If all goes according to plan, however, the World War II-era bomber will one day reach much greater heights.

But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before the B-17 — until recently held aloft by steel supports in front of The Bomber restaurant in Milwaukie — can fly again.

To start, the aircraft needs to be cleaned and disassembled. That began Aug. 13, when the Lacey Lady was brought gently to the ground. Ultimately, the B-17 will be hauled to a hangar at Aurora State Airport, where it will be restored.

“It’s the end of an era, and a new beginning,” said Terry Scott, director of the B-17 Alliance Museum, which sits alongside The Bomber restaurant on McLoughlin Boulevard.

Art Lacey, grandfather-in-law to Terry Scott, bought the B-17 in 1947 and brought it to The Bomber, which at that time, was a gas station. For the next eight weeks, the aircraft will remain on the grounds of The Bomber restaurant, surrounded by a fence and with 24-hour security, as the airframe and wings are cleaned out and then taken apart in preparation for the move to Aurora.

“It’s a piece of history that we want to see preserved to carry and continue its new mission,” said Sean O’Brien, director of operations for the B-17 Alliance. “It’s already served a mission of over 60 years out here as a local landmark, and now it’s ready to go on to its new mission to finish the restoration that began a number of years ago.”

Previously, the restoration team removed the Lacey Lady’s nose section, chin turret, four engines, ailerons and flaps.

The nonprofit B-17 Alliance, formed several years ago with the goal of restoring the Lacey Lady, has already pumped more than half a million dollars into the project. The group hopes to raise $3 to $5 million in coming years to see the project through.

The Alliance hopes to have the Lacey Lady restored and certified for flight by the Federal Aviation Administration within 10 years.

On Aug. 13, a crowd gathered to see the local landmark taken down from its supports.

“When I was a young boy, my dad would stop for gas and you’d get to climb up and sit in the cockpit,” Alliance volunteer Fred Bremner recounted as he watched the crew work on the plane.

At that time, he added, Art Lacey himself would routinely come out and hold court at customers’ tables.

“The Scott family has been so dedicated and persistent in preserving this,” Bremner said. “Now what we need is to get the word out and help see this thing fly ... It’s deteriorating and we’ve got to get it into a covered hanger. But it’s not going to deteriorate anymore, we’ve got people dedicated to that.”

Budgeting for such a large restoration, which will call for parts that haven’t been manufactured for many decades, can be difficult.

“Cost is always hard because there’s not a set price for all the different parts involved,” O’Brien said. “A lot of those parts have to be custom made, and a complete list of parts hasn’t been determined. It could cost an additional $1 to $3 million on top of what’s already been spent or achieved so far.”

Getting bombed on the bomber

The Lacey Lady is said to have been the venue for plenty of raucous, impromptu parties. In fact, the graffiti still exists inside the airframe to prove it.

“When it was originally placed up in the air, it even had all the armaments in it,” said Jayson Scott, grandson of Art Lacey and an Alliance board member. “It was a totally intact plane; but over the years, with people going through, they walked through six sets of floorboards and there was a lot of fatigue.

In 1965, the threat of a lawsuit over a child who fell out of the B-17 prompted Lacey to close the plane to the public.

The lawsuit, among other reasons:

“By that time, people were stripping stuff out of it, people would go up there and have wild parties and my grandpa would have to go and run them out of there,” Scott said. “So it was a probably a good thing that it did happen to some degree, unfortunately.”

Did you know?

The Lacey Lady was the second B-17 that Art Lacey bought from a base in Oklahoma, according to an account from the B-17 Alliance website.

He promptly crash landed the first B-17 he purchased for $13,000 — about $139,000 in 2014 dollars — thanks to a bad landing gear.

Luckily for his sake, the head of the base sold Lacey another bomber for $1,500, all the money Lacey had left.

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