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Mon, May 16, 2005

The Other Return To Flight Challenge: AMHF

Harpoon is "Hot Stuff"

The American Military Heritage Foundation (AMHF) is working hard to return a Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon to flight. After 22 months of hard work, challenges, and discouragement, the group installed and ran up a "new" 50-year-old engine on May 7th. They expect to be airborne in the next few weeks.

July 26th 2003 was an exciting day for the crew, as they prepared to take the PV-2 to Oshkosh where it had been promised a spot at show center, Aeroshell Square. Unfortunately, a backfiring number two engine forced the aircraft to be grounded. Until May 7th 2005, the aircraft sat at Mount Comfort Airport, just east of Indianapolis, while the organization battled numerous logistical and financial challenges.

"I've been flying the Harpoon for 10 fun years. After 39 years of docile, thankfully, airline flying it is exciting to fly this airplane. Just the act of firing up those big engines and listening to all that power is thrilling," said Dave Smith, Chief Pilot of AMHF.

Unfortunately, Smith had to wait a long time. After months of diagnostics and trial runs, the difficult decision was made to replace the engine.  The old engine was worn and damaged beyond repair, so it was removed from the aircraft. It was disassembled and reworked into various pieces of artwork and furniture. Skilled members crafted lamps out of the cylinder heads and pistons for fundraising purposes. Members have been working hard to raise the funds and do the work necessary to get "Hot Stuff" back to flying status.

Incredibly, they were able to locate a complete engine that had been preserved 50 years ago. It was purchased and shipped with the help of a generous anonymous donation. Weeks turned into months as the engine was cleaned, prepared and finally mounted on the aircraft.

"When the opportunity to get involved with an operating warbird came up, I jumped at the chance. Helping to keep history alive and sharing this rare bird with the public continues to be an extremely rewarding experience," said Mark Leslie, of the AMHF board of Directors.

The AMHF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The dynamic group of volunteers is dedicated to preserving vintage military aircraft in flying condition in memory of all who fought in the air on behalf of the United States.

The jewel of the foundation is "Hot Stuff," a Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon that is maintained at Mount Comfort Airport, just east of Indianapolis. This Harpoon entered military service with the Navy in March 1945. It was featured in a NOVA documentary on the PV-1 and its role in WWII. The foundation's PV-2 is the only one of its type still flying in military configuration and has flown at air shows through out the country.

PV-2s were used as bombers, patrol bombers and attack aircraft in WWII. They normally operated without fighter escort due to their ability to adequately defend themselves. In the Atlantic, their mission was primarily antisubmarine patrol and interdiction.

In the Pacific, they were used as a close air support plane. With up to eight (8) 50 cal. machine guns mounted in the nose, under wing rockets, and up to 2,000 lbs. in bombs, the PV-2 proved a powerful weapon against the enemy.

They were designed as an extended range replacement for the PV-1. It was a Lockheed PV-1, predecessor of the extended range PV-2, flying a routine patrol that discovered the survivors of the "USS Indianapolis" on Aug. 2, 1945.

The heart of the AMHF is the members who receive no compensation for the work they do to bring the aircraft to life for thousands of air show spectators each season. The volunteers are serious about safety and preserving the memory of those who served our country.

They're also serious about having a good time. Whenever there's a work project going on, you can bet there will be food cooking on the grill shortly.

Doug Cross, the president of the AMHF, sent out the word on the May 7th that the number two aircraft engine was finally brought to life successfully about 0920. After a shutting down, and checking the engine over carefully, it was restarted at about 1100, along with the number one engine for the first time since last fall.

They put both engines were put through their paces, checking the magnetos, the props, and running up to mid-high power. The runs were very clean and successful for both engines.

"We're very excited by the events unfolding," Cross said. "Our crews are preparing themselves to operate the aircraft again after a one-year hiatus from the air-show circuit. I cannot stress enough that the events of today would not have been possible with the dedicated effort of all involved."(2003 photo below)

Smith says he expects the Harpoon to be flying within a few weeks once the final maintenance items and the paperwork is taken care of. The AMHF is looking forward to an exciting airshow season.



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