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Douglas A-26B "Invader"
Crew: Three to Four
Engine: Two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-27 18-cylinder, double-row radial; 2,000 hp each
Wingspan: 70 ft 0 in
Length: 50 ft 8 in
Height: 18 ft 6 in
Weight: 22,362 lbs empty; 41,800 lbs loaded
Speed: 376 mph
Range: 2,914 miles
Ceiling: 24,500 feet
Armament: 16-to-18 .50 cal. machine guns; 6,000 lbs bombs
Cost: $192,457 (average A-26 unit cost as of 1944)
This A-26B, S/N 44-35617 "Grim Reaper," was originally manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Corporation in May 1945 as a "C" model (with a glass bombardier nose). The USAAF accepted delivery on the aircraft on May 15, 1945. Later that month it was assigned to the 140th Base Unit at Moody Field, Georgia. In January 1946 it was assigned to the 4160th Base Unit, Hobbs Field, New Mexico, and then in July 1947 came to the 4135th Base Unit here at Hill Field. The newly-created United States Air Force redesignated this aircraft as a B-26C in January 1948.
In January 1951 the airplane was moved to the control of the Ogden Air Material Area, still at Hill AFB, but in November 1951 it was transferred to the 117th Reconnaissance Technical Wing (Tactical Air Command) at Lawson AFB, Georgia. That organization moved to Paris in February 1952 and then the following month relocated to Wiesbaden AB, Germany.
The aircraft accompanied the unit in its travels and was modified to RB-26C configuration in June 1952. The next month it went to the 10th Reconnaissance Technical Wing (USAF Europe) at Toul-Rosiere AB, France. While serving with this organization the plane periodically was assigned to Furstenfieldbruck AB, Neubiberg AB, and Erding AB, Germany. In June 1953 it was transitioned to the 85th Air Defence Wing (USAFE) at Erding AB, Germany, but in July went back to the 10th Reconnaissance Technical Wing (USAFE) at Spangdahlem AB, Germany. March of 1954 saw the plane move to the 737th Maintenance Group (USAFE) at Chateauroux AB, France. The next month it went back to the 10th RTW at Spangdahlem.
In the fall of 1955 the aircraft was sent to Manchester, England, for contract maintenance and then was transferred to the 184th Technical Reconnaissance Squadron (Air National Guard) at Ft. Smith, Arkansas. One year later it went to the 154th Technical Reconnaissance Squadron (ANG) at Adams Field in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the summer of 1957 the aging aircraft was sent to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona for long-term storage and then in January 1958 was dropped from the USAF inventory. Later it was sold to Oklahoma Aircraft Corporation, where it was converted into a light transport for civilian use.
On March 17, 1983 the plane was seized by United States Marshalls in a drug raid in California, carrying a heavy load of marijuana. The Air Force flew the aircraft to Travis AFB, California, where it was placed in temporary storage. On January 3, 1984 a federal judge returned the plane to USAF control, but it remained at Travis for several years. Air Force personnel there repainted the aircraft in original USAF markings and placed it on static display. In August 1990 the plane was disassembled and brought by truck to Hill AFB for restoration and display at Hill Aerospace Museum. The old plane had returned "home" to Hill Field.
In January 1991, museum volunteer Roy Marquardt began working with members of the 2849th Combat Logistics Support Squadron from Hill to reassemble and bring this beautiful aircraft back to full military configuration. Since the parts were not available to restore it as an original "C" model, with glazed bombardier nose, it was decided to use the pieces available and rebuild it as a "B" model instead, with a "six-gun" nose. (An "eight-gun" nose was also available, but was in terrible condition due to heavy corrosion.)
Several problems were immediately identified that would have to be overcome to properly restore the aircraft back to its military configuration. Certain parts were missing from the plane, including the wingtips. The civilian version of the plane had been configured with wingtip fuel tanks, but those had been removed sometime in the past and no wingtips were present at all. New wingtips would have to be fabricated if none could be located.
The plane also had several windows in the fuselage that had been added for the civilian/passenger version. To revert to military configuration these would have to be removed and new skin panels fabricated. Interior lighting and wiring would have to be removed as well. The aircraft also had the wrong type of propellers for either a "B" or "C" model. It had arrived with the paddle-blade type found on the "K" model. The proper slender "pointed" type props would have to be obtained for the "B" version's engines.
Also, the openings in the fuselage for the upper and lower gun turrets were sealed and would have to be reopened to accommodate the rebuilt turrets. The crew access ladder was also missing and its fuselage panel sealed. A new ladder would have to be made, or found, and the access panel reopened. Finally, no machine guns were aboard, of course, so at least cooling jackets would have to be installed in the various gun emplacements to bring back the warbird's "sting."
Restoration work progressed throughout 1991, 1992, and 1993. The wings were hoisted into place, the rudder and elevators attached, and the landing gear bolted on and locked in the down position. The engines were mounted and detailed, cowlings attached, and the gun nose bolted on and made ready to receive gun barrels. The cockpit, which over the years had been converted to dual controls, was reworked back to its proper single-pilot arrangement. (The A-26 was originally manned by a pilot, a navigator/bombardier/loader, and a turret gunner. Sometimes a flight engineer would accompany the standard crew.)
The proper wingtips were finally located and purchased from an aircraft parts dealer in Arizona by a member of the Air Force Heritage Foundation of Utah. New tires were installed and machine gun barrels and cooling jackets were put in all gun positions. The proper propellers were discovered at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, who was restoring a "K" model B-26 at the time and happened to need the exact ones at Hill, so a trade was arranged. Also, all required skin panels were reworked, including the fabric skins of the control surfaces, which were replaced with aluminum to prevent future deterioration.
Finally in 1994 the aircraft was towed to the aircraft paint shop on base to await its turn in line for a new finish. The aircraft was painted in the jet black and red scheme of the 13th Bombardment Squadron (Light), "the "Devil's Own Grim Reapers." The 8th, 13th, and 90th Bomb Squadrons comprised the famous 3rd Bombardment Group of the 5th Air Force, which served with distinction in the Pacific Theatre of operations in World War II and later flew missions out of Japan and Kunsan, Korea, during the Korean War.
The 13th Bomb Squadron was originally organized for service in World War I as the 13th Aero Squadron and its skeleton emblem was officially approved by the War Department in 1924. Roy Marquardt, who spearheaded the restoration efforts on this aircraft, was a B-26 crew chief with the "Grim Reapers" in Japan during the Korean War.
The freshly refinished aircraft was towed back to the museum in March 1995 and placed in its final resting place for long-term display. Further work on the airframe will include installation of wing-mounted bomb racks and bombs, the crew access ladder, and the upper window fairings on the fuselage aft of the dorsal gun turret. The "Grim Reaper" stands today as a tribute to USAF A-26 flight and maintenance crews who served in two wars, and to the men and women of Hill Field who supported the aircraft for so many years.