Wichita, Kan. (KSNW) — About a year and a half ago, a damaged vintage World War I aircraft arrived at a hangar at Eisenhower National Airport. As many as a dozen volunteers have been working a couple of days each week to restore the 1918 military DH-4, which is one of only five that exist in the world.
When the Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation is finished with its restoration, Wichita’s DH-4 will become the only airworthy plane of its kind.
The foundation – named after Wichita’s only aviation Medal of Honor recipient – is dedicated to preserving this piece of aviation history.
The hangar where they’ve been restoring the 105-year-old aircraft was recently sold. So, the two men behind the project are searching for a new space to continue their work.
In the spring of 2021, retired veterans Greg Zuercher and Doug Jacobs brought what remained of an original 1918 DH-4 military plane to Wichita.
“Our foundation, the Bleckley Foundation, purchased the remains of the airplane. And we brought it here, specifically so that we can restore it,” said Doug Jacobs. “But what better place to restore an airplane like this than in Wichita, Kansas, the Air Capital of the World, right?”
The tedious restoration process started at a hangar owned by Global Aviation Technologies.
“We’ve been blessed by Global Aviation Technologies. They have given us free space basically for 18 months that we have been rebuilding our airplane,” said the retired Army LTC. “Just recently, though, within the last two weeks, three weeks, they actually sold the building that we’re in, and that’s forcing us to move at this time. So, we are looking for a another place that we can rehouse our airplane.”
Jacobs and Zuercher aren’t searching for just any space.
“We want it to be in Wichita. We don’t want it to be out in the outlying communities because we want to make it simple for people in Wichita primarily to access,” said Wichita native Zuercher. “We’re looking for the right fit of a property owner. Somebody who’s invested in history, particularly aviation history and our heritage. We’re looking for, of course, no cost storage space to conduct the restoration, and we think it’s going to last five calendar years. So, ’23 through 2027 at some point.”
That’s five years to complete a restoration that these two men call a labor of love and a continuation of their military service. They’re inspired by the story of Erwin Bleckley, and they have plans to create an airport monument in honor of the Wichita native once the plane restoration is finished.
“We have to find another home for it. We want to continue what we’re doing,” said Jacobs.
“Wichita has a golden opportunity to recognize its highest decorated air aviator that many communities don’t have such an opportunity. And we are the Air Capital. Doug and I want to see that to fruition. And we think this memorial display, plus a restored aircraft on display, will inspire literally millions of people through the decades about what such a hero he was for Wichita. What he did in World War One, and how he inspires then and now,” said Zuercher, a retired Air Force / Army and Irag / Afghanistan war veteran.
The two men have to move their plane and all of its parts out of its current location in two weeks.
They have found a temporary solution. The Kansas Aviation Museum has agreed to allow them to store everything there for the time being.
If you would like to contact Zuercher, he can be reached at 316-253-3806. For more information on the foundation, go online to www.bleckleyfoundation.org.