Cdr. Gerald Durbin, Ph.D. is a man on a mission…restoring formal Navy patrol aircraft to their former glory. He is CEO of the Willie Victor Group, which consists of ex-Navy AEW crewmembers, ex-Air Force and civilians who volunteer their time and expertise to restore these aircraft. The mission of the group is to preserve these aircraft so that others may enjoy them and to tell the story of the efforts made by these crews to protect the United States during the Cold War. Dr. Durbin led the group of volunteers that have spent six years and in excess of 11,500 hours restoring WV-2 BuNo 141311 (Super Constellation) currently on display at the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum in Rantoul, Illinois.
His current project involves the restoration of EC-121K (WV-2) BuNo 141297 on display at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins, Georgia. He and a crew of 35 volunteers started restoration work on May 1, 2006 and will be working on restoring 297 for several years. They plan on installing new tires, cleaning and preserving the engines, replacing windows and giving both the interior and exterior a good cleaning and recreating the aft CIC part of the plane. In addition they plan on opening the aircraft for public viewing in mid-May and installed air conditioning to keep the interior temperatures tolerable. The airframe is in good condition with less than 10,000 hours flight time but everything aft of the galley has been removed. The long term plan is to restore the aircraft back to its original EC-121K (WV-2) configuration. Dr. Durbin has located P2’s that are being scrapped and is sending a crew to remove whatever avionic equipment that might be useful for the restoration.
Next on the agenda is the restoration of three aircraft at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. EC-121K BuNo 143221 was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and is need of a replacement upper radome and right aileron. In addition, it is in need of a general sprucing up similar to what is being done to the Warner Robbins aircraft. Two other aircraft at the museum in desperate need of the group’s attention are SP-2H BuNo 141234 and SP-5B BuNo 135533. As with the Warner Robins EC-121K, parts from the scrapped P-2’s will be used for the restoration effort. The group plans on beginning work on the Pensacola aircraft in February 2007.
My hat goes off the Dr. Durbin and his group of dedicated volunteers who donate their time and expertise to save a little bit of history for future generations. They provide the necessary resources to restore aircraft that might have been left to deteriorate in the “back 40” outside areas of many museums. If you would like to contact Dr. Durbin his address is 503 Laveda Lane, Pontotoc, MS 38863.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: Dr. Gerald Durbin, Raymond Robb, Ralph M. Pettersen
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----Created 29 October 2006------Updated 24 January 2009----