Airport lands a deal

By JIM MEYER – Staff writer

Local vintage aircraft enthusiasts who travel to airports around the country to get a look at historic planes will now have one in their own backyard.

Venango Regional Airport is slated to become home to the Beach City Baby, a 1942 C-53 Skytrooper plane that flew bombing missions against the Germans during World War II.

County Commissioner Albert “Chip” Abramovic signed a letter of intent with Vintage Wings Inc. on Friday to lease a hangar for the aircraft starting next summer.

Plans also call for converting the plane into a flying classroom, taking it on tours to educate the public on the history of aviation with a focus on World War II-era planes.

Vintage Wings President Jason Capra said the goal is to develop this project into an educational facility, focusing on the history of aviation with several more historical aircraft on location.

“It (the hangar) will not only store our collection when not on tour but promote business and tourism for the region,” Capra said.

The plane is expected to arrive in July or August, depending on how long it takes to restore it to flying condition. The amount of rent to be paid on the lease is to be determined.

“This is a great opportunity to be able to house it here, to preserve our past and for us to be a part of it,” Abramovic said. “I’m a history buff, so I love this stuff.”

The Beach City Baby has a long and diverse history, including missions in Africa and being repurposed as a passenger plane after it was retired from wartime service.

From 1963 to 1983, it was known as “Buckeye One” under the ownership of former Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes.

Capra, a lifelong aviation enthusiast from Oakdale, said the first airshow he attended as a child was at Venango Regional Airport.

“I always liked it here, but I didn’t know the possibility,” Capra said. “This is exactly what we’re looking for. It’s going to give us the space to do everything we need to do.”

Capra began to consider Venango Regional Airport as a potential home for the historic aircraft after having some equipment worked on by Franklin’s Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 988, which is assisting in the plane’s restoration.

“I was so impressed with the craftsmanship of EAA Chapter 988,” Capra said.

EAA member Jim Aaron said the chapter is welcoming new members to get involved with the project.

“We typically work on experimental home-builts, but we just lucked out on this deal,” Aaron said.

The flight control surfaces of the Beach City Baby are being restored by EAA members at the group’s airport hangar. Capra noted that the flight control surfaces are covered with fabric, which made repairs easier in wartime conditions.

Airport Manager Bill Buchna said the airport will benefit from the exposure, as well as fuel sales to Vintage Wings and pilots visiting the area to see the historic aircraft.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to see history come to life,” Buchna said. “For the airport, it’ll be great exposure and it could be the start of an economic boom for the area.”