Iconic World War II plane restored in Caldwell

The plane sank in a lake in 1945.

CALDWELL - A World War II plane that was lost to time has been resurrected in Idaho. The iconic plane will soon be on display at the Warhawk Air Museum.

The Dottie Mae P-47 Thunderbolt was part of the 511th Fighter Squadron where it flew dozens of missions.

On May 8, 1945, the Dottie Mae went down during a morale flight over a lake in Austria. It's believed to be the final plane lost during World War II in the European theatre.

The Dottie Mae sank to the bottom of that lake and sat there for decades. But finally after 60 years, it was saved by a group lead in part by Bob Nightingale.

"People knew the airplane was in the lake, they only knew it was a P-47, they didn't know it was the Dottie Mae," said Nightingale.

So when crews pulled it out in June of 2005, it was quite a surprise.

"As the silt slide off the side of it, we could see Dottie, as it continued to slide off of it we could see the nose art," said Nightingale.

The celebration began as the crew realized they had found one of the most famous planes from World War II.

The plane was taken apart and shipped to California where it was kept in Nightingale's hangar for a little over two years.

"I did not want to disturb anything on the airplane, so I never washed it, I never cleaned it," he said.

Nightingale was able to get into contact with one of the plane’s original pilots, Larry Cool.  When Cool found out about the discovery, he came out for a visit.

"He came out and sat in the airplane. As he was getting out he stepped on the seat, which was wood and broke it," said Nightingale.

At that point, they knew they had to fix it.

In 2008, the plane was sent to Idaho where it was set to be restored by Vintage Airframes out of Caldwell.

"After 60 years in a lake it was pretty rough, it was completely full of silt, we had about nine garbage cans of mud come out of it," said Mike Breshears, owner Vintage Airframes.

So the crew got to cleaning it using water and vinegar. In 2010, efforts to restore the entire plane kicked into full gear.

"Five years, five guys and around 52,000 man hours," said Breshears.

After all that work, it looked good as new.  And believe it or not, it's built of about 55% of original parts.

Nightingale says it's tough to put into words how much its story, restoration and display means.

"It stands for so many things," he said.

The Dottie Mae will be unveiled to the public at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa on August 26.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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