Ten years ago Thursday the Yankee Air Museum's hangar went up in flames, destroying everything the museum had, except for its three flying aircraft. And if not for the heroic work of several museum volunteers, the planes might have been lost, as well.
Lew Major has served on the crew of the museum's B-25 bomber, the Yankee Warrior, since 1998. They had just returned from an airs how and were preparing to store the plane in the hangar when they saw smoke.
Major says they towed the B-25 and then the B-17, the Yankee Lady, a safe distance from the hangar and went back for the C-47 troop transport plane, the Yankee Doodle Dandy.
The C-47 was pointing the wrong direction to be towed using the motorized tug, so Major and other volunteers started pushing the plane out of the hangar.
"By now, smoke is already down at waist level, and we're breathing deep smoke," Major says. "I'm beginning to think man, I don't know if we can make this or not. We got the darned airplane out to the hangar door, a fire engine pulls up and stops. We had to stop. I thought man, this is it. We stop, and our forward motion is all gone and we won't be able to get it out."
Someone told the fire truck to move, and they were able to get the plane the rest of the way out of the hangar.
Everything except the planes and a couple of toolboxes was lost in the fire.
Yankee Air Museum Executive Director Kevin Walsh says in the 10 years since the fire, museum staff, volunteers and members have done an outstanding job of re-building.
"And then to almost on the anniversary of the fire 10 years later to have saved a portion of the former Willow Run bomber plant as our future home, you have to sit back and kind of marvel at what this organization, and its volunteers and members can do," Walsh says.
Walsh says they have big plans for the museum in the next 10 years and beyond.
In addition to housing both the flyable and non-flyable aircraft in the collection, the museum's new home will provide more room for educational programs and for hosting conventions and other events.
The goal is to make the facility a significant museum and cultural destination for southeast Michigan, and Walsh says everything they do is designed to help reach that goal.