When it came time for the 11 a.m. flyover of USS Texas by area veterans marking the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Goodtime Gal didn't disappoint.
Piloted by Gordon Cragg with co-pilot Ken Hyman, the 1940-era plane was on its first nontraining mission for the West Houston Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, a privately funded national nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the aviation history of World War II.
The squadron has spent eight years restoring the plane, considered a work horse of the war. No more than a dozen C-60As still fly, said squadron leader Steve Sehnert.
The plane's first maintenance flight was in August, and its first operational flight was in October during Wings Over Houston, which the squad sponsors with CAF's Gulf Coast Wing.
When it's not flying, Goodtime Gal is on display with four other World War II planes at the squadron's museum, which is open to the public on the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"These were all built when all they had was slide rules and erasers," Rich Welsh, part of the squad's speaker's bureau, said of the planes. "There were no computers."
Still, laborers could roll a four-engine bomber off the assembly line in about 63 minutes, he said.
Restoration of such planes can be painstaking, done under the direction of technicians to meet current Federal Aviation Administration standards.
"It's their brains and our knuckles," Sehnert said.
Nationwide, CAF has about 120 planes still flying and a total of 150 counting those on static display.
The West Houston Squadron's latest aircraft project is a Navion, which was found mounted atop a welding shop. The plane was designed by Fort Worth-based North American Aviation, the same company that built the AT-6 trainer, the P-51 Mustang and the B-25 bomber.
The squadron has about 100 members from throughout Houston. About half are pilots, some with military flying experience.
Most are just history buffs who are well-versed on the history of the war, the squadron's planes and the museum.
Mission to educate
Sehnert was among a handful of passengers on board for the Dec. 3 flyover, which included three other CAF planes and three aircraft owned by squad members.
The event was to remember the Dec. 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which jolted the Unites States into World War II.
Inside Goodtime Gal is a no-nonsense cargo hold. Above it is a rope net to hold paratroopers' equipment.
Amid the din of the dual radial piston engines, Sehnert and Sam Hoynes shared some of the background about the C-60A.
Originally designed as an airliner, the model was used by the U.S. Army Air Corps as a cargo aircraft and to transport VIPs and paratroopers.
The work force that made aircraft for the war effort included women, and children played a role in the war effort by tending family gardens, said George Levandoski, a ham radio operator who heads communications duties during the Wings Over Houston event.
The museum helps tell that story about the war and citizens' united effort to defeat the Axis powers.
Welsh uses pots and pans to capture youth's attention, since the common household items were smelted to provide metal for war planes.
"Our main purpose is to educate young people," he said. "They don't get this in school."
For more information, visit : www.westhoustonsqdn.org.
Credit: Robin Foste, Houston Chronicle
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