THE RECOVERY

 

 

 


The P-61 is of interest for a number of reasons besides its rarity.  It was America's first night fighter designed for the role.  From a design begun in 1940 came an aircraft as large as some medium bombers, but capable of 350+ MPH speeds, a take-off roll of 1,000 feet and landing speeds of 70 to 80 mph. 

The big interceptor featured slotted wing flaps and "spoiler" type ailerons for better control at all speeds.  P-61's performed well in both theaters of World War II and one was credited with the last kill of the conflict.  Post war, P-61's were also used in testing of early ejection seats.


The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum was formed in 1980 for the purpose of acquiring the right to recover P-61B # 42-39445 from its mountaintop crash site.  The museum's ultimate goal was to return the plane to its facility in Reading, Pennsylvania and restore it to flying condition.  After five long years of negotiation, rights were finally granted by the government of Indonesia.  One of the conditions was the trade of a restored and flyable Boeing "Stearman"...



But ahead lay a daunting task.  The wreck was surrounded by dense jungle and overgrown with vines and other vegetation, all of which had to be cleared away before disassembly could proceed.  The steep slope on which it had come to rest in 1945 exacerbated the already incredibly difficult recovery operation.  As if all this was not complicated enough, a tribal leader staked a claim to the plane and mountain, requiring intervention by the local military.   There are enough tales of life on top of an Indonesian mountain to fill the book, which no doubt will be forthcoming someday.   But over the course of several expeditions and 10 years, museum volunteers and hired local help cleared and disassembled the aircraft...

     

     

     

     

A helicopter landing pad was constructed and the helicopter lift was a literal cliff-hanger.   The P- 61 was removed from the mountain in a harrowing series of lift operations that tested the chopper pilot's skill and courage to the limits...  

     

   

Finally back on level ground for the first time in 45 years, the broken-down plane was crated and prepared for shipping...  

     

   

The final leg of the journey home began in February of 1991.  The vessel "Darposembalin" sailed from Jayapura on February 11 with the P-61 aboard.  The crates containing the P-61 were transferred to the Maersk Lines vessel "Maersk Tauro" in Jakarta and departed that port March 3.  It arrived on schedule in the Port of Baltimore April 5th, and the first crates were delivered to Reading on the following Friday.  By Saturday afternoon, the final delivery had been made... 

 

     

     

     

     

     

With the safe arrival of the P-61 at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's home base in Reading, the recovery project had been successfully completed.  A tremendous amount of work and expense had been expended to bring the P-61 home.  Much more still lies ahead before this magnificent piece of history comes to life.  Recovery was only the prelude.

What are these people looking at?

   

   

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