The YOV-10A as it was when it arrived at the Yankee Air Museum.
The YOV-10A after Chief Rice and crew got done with it.
The Yankee Air Museum hangar burns uncontrollably (Photo by Leisa Thompson/Ann Arbor News)
The Yankee Air Museum - the day after the fire. (Photo courtesy LocalHangar.com)
We are very sad to report that on Saturday, October 9, 2004, the Yankee Air Museum facility burned to the ground, just months after the museum began a fund-raising effort for improvements to the aging facility to include a planned fire-suppression system. Most importantly, nobody was hurt in the blaze, which started for unknown reasons in a storage room, but the one-of-a-kind ex-NASA YOV-10A Bronco prototype (152881) was inside the hangar and was destroyed along with several other aircraft. OBA Member Richard "Chief" Rice and his crew had put many thousands of hours into the almost-finished restoration of this historic Bronco. The museum lost several other aircraft (all non-flyable and undergoing restoration) including a very rare WACO CG-4A combat glider, a rare F-105 "Thud" fighter which once flew with the USAF Thunderbirds, an HM-293 "Flying Flea", a Bensen gyrocopter, a homebuilt biplane, an L-60 Lockheed Lodestar, L-39, parts of their AT-11, trainers and simulators, uniforms, photographs, as well as all of the WWI, WW II, and Korea displays on the second floor. They also lost many of the spare parts for the flyable aircraft. One of the problems in fighting the fire was the lack of nearby fire hydrants. The facility's 50,000 square foot wooden hangar at the Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti (about 25 miles west of Detroit) was originally built by Ford in 1941 to build B-24 bombers, and also contained the Museum's library collection which was lost as well. The fast-moving fire was reported at 6:30PM by a B-25 crew that had just returned to the museum after a flight, and the whole building was soon completely engulfed with little chance for the fire department to do anything to stop it. The rest of the frame collapsed by 7:45PM.
Yankee Air Museum president Jon Stevens put the preliminary losses at between $5 and $7 million, saying that the contents of the hangar and the museum's library were a total loss. Fortunately, approximately 20 of the museum's planes were on display outside and were not damaged, and the B-25 crew that discovered the fire managed to pull the B-25D (Yankee Warrior), a B-17G (Yankee Lady), and a C-47 (Yankee Doodle Dandy) outside to safety, and their beautiful Stinson was in another town.
The Yankee Air Museum's YOV-10A that was destroyed was one of the first flight prototypes, and had an interesting career in a joint Army-NASA research program during the 1970's. NASA used it to investigate ways to further improve the slow-flight capabilities of the aircraft. The plane had a unique rotating-cylinder flap system installed as well as cross-linked 1100shp Lycoming T53 turboprops driving large 4-bladed propellers. The plane had fallen into a state of disrepair after its NASA career, but in an effort spearheaded by Chief Rice with some help from OV-10 test pilot (and OBA member) Ed Gillespie, it had been restored back to nearly new condition. To add insult to injury, the Bronco was reported to be just days away from the end of the restoration process.
We have heard from Chief Rice. Here's what he said:
I don't know where to start. I'm so sorry for all the Nam vets that had anything to do with the Bronco, I spent nine years restoring her, mainly by myself, with no money, to make a memorial to all you guys. I dedicated 152881 to Ed Gillespie, who flew it.
Also to the Marine Corps who really wanted her. The Marine Corps colors were always on the the plane, even to it's final end.
I went to the fire, at around 7:30 PM, by then the roof had collapsed and I couldn't watch anymore, and I went home.
I'm so sorry for all you guys. And thank-you to the Bronco Association, for all your help.
Rich "Chief" Rice
Most importantly, we are very relieved that Chief and everyone else is OK. Judging by the emails on the various Bronco and FAC mailing lists, this loss is being taken like the loss of a family member across the entire OV-10 and FAC community. The amount of effort and dedication put into this particular Bronco restoration was immense, and the results really showed in the superb quality of the airplane. There was also a rare WACO CG-4A WW2 combat glider and a Republic F-105 that were undergoing restoration which were lost in the fire, and we're sure that they had been lined up for similar attention. The loss of the historic records, photos, and memorabilia was a huge loss as well. None of these priceless historic treasures can be replaced. However, we are very grateful that the flying aircraft which form the nucleus of the Yankee Air Force as well as the large collection of already-restored planes survived.
This is a very sad event not only for the OV-10 community but for the aviation community as a whole. While the loss of so much irreplaceable history at the museum is heartbreaking, we are encouraged to know that it's not as simple as "game over". The volunteers that keep a museum such as the YAF going are a special breed of folks, who couldn't do what they do if they were easily deterred by adversity. These folks view "impossible" odds not as a deterrent, but as a challenge to be met with enthusiasm. We look forward to seeing the Yankee Air Museum rebuild from the ashes with an even bigger and better facility and collection. In fact, the B-25 was back in the air Sunday morning, as if to tell the world that they might be a bit down right now, but they sure as heck aren't out! Our thoughts are with the many hardworking members of the Yankee Air Force and we look forward to sharing in their bright future, in spite of this tragedy. Keep 'em flying!