Chicagoland's Only Aviation Museum

Classic Flight: Museum and Airport News

Notice: this article has been reproduced as originally published. 

Raising an Invader

By Robert Atac

Parked on the corner of North Avenue and Powis Road in a static display from the fall of 1995 to the summer of 1997, the museum owned A-26 Invader was visible to all who traveled on North Avenue. Previously in the fall of 1994, Lawrence Matt and Bob Knoll reconditioned the Invader making it flyable. As soon as the aircraft was able to be flown, Irv Lewandowski and Jack Rogers flew the aircraft into DuPage Airport. During the summer of 1997, Lawrence Matt, Russ "Buzz" Stahmer, and Emil Moreno began efforts to restore the aircraft to a flight safe condition once again. This restoration was necessary to move the aircraft from DuPage Airport to Aurora Airport with the museum, because ground transport of the aircraft was prohibitively expensive. Due to its historical significance, the museum is working diligently to retain this aircraft as part of its historical aircraft collection.

History of the A-26

The A-26 Invader had one of the longest service lives of any American warplane, serving in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Designed and manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company, it first flew in 1942 but due to production delays was not used operationally until 1944. With 22 50 caliber machine guns the A-26 had the most awesome concentrations of firepower of any World War II aircraft. Unlike the B-17, B-25 and B-24 bombers, the A-26 used remote controlled gun turrets above and below the airframe. The remote turrets solved the problem of wind buffet and also allowed the guns to swing faster than possible with hand held guns. Tasked with the job of disrupting German logistical support routes, the 47th BG flying the A-26 flew around the clock and did pioneer work in night interdiction against enemy supply routes. Losses were relatively light, thanks to the beefy airframe, and on numerous occasions severely damaged aircraft made it home safely. Production of the type ceased at the end of World War II with a total of 2,450 manufactured. It was the last twin engine propeller driven bomber to be built for the US Air Force.

A-26 Bs and Cs conduct a bombing mission over Germany

When the North Korean army poured over the DMZ into South Korea on June 25, 1950, the US was ill prepared to fight a war. The 3rd Bomber Group flying the A-26 was pressed into service to provide cover for evacuating US personnel and their dependents from Korea. Soon after they received offensive orders and began to pound North Korean forces that were south of the DMZ. The 3rd BG took out most of the North Korean air force during a single raid on the main enemy airbase in Pyong Yang. A total of 25 aircraft were destroyed on the ground along with one Yak-3 being shot down in the air. Thereafter, the A-26 shifted to its traditional role of ground interdiction and support. This was critical as the US and South Korean forces were pressed into a very small region called the Pusian Perimeter. Had it not been for the air support of the A-26, the North Koreans would have easily overrun the entire country. The A-26 distinguished itself throughout the war. In fact, the last bombing mission of the war was carried out by the 3rd BG shortly before the truce went into effect, a fitting climax for the aircraft which also carried out the first attack of the war.

An A-26 C is being loaded for an operation in Korea

The A-26 was once again pressed into service in the early 60s as a counter-insurgency aircraft twenty years after its first flight in 1942. Due to the unconventional nature of the guerrilla type conflicts in Southeast Asia, the US did not want to use its front line bombers such as the Douglas B-66 and Martin B-57s. A total of forty aircraft were modified by the On Mark Engineering company for use with the Special Operations Squadron (SOS). The modified A-26 aircraft had rebuilt wings and fuselages. These aircraft operated out of Nakhom Phanom (NKP) Airbase in Thailand and were used primarily for night interdiction on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The last A-26 was removed from service in 1972. This aircraft in now displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Raising the Invader

The first step in resurrecting the Invader was to un-stick the engines. Over the past years the engines became locked due to lack of use. Larry removed all of the spark plugs and injected a penetrating oil into each cylinder. After several days, he slowly rocked the props back and forth by hand until the pistons broke loose. He had to repeat this operation several times until the props could turn a full 720 degrees. Once the props could turn then work began to replace worn and missing engine components. This task took several weeks. One of the engines was missing most of the engine accessories and both engines were missing starters. The starters and other components were located in the stock room and were inspected and installed on the engine. As soon as the starters were installed they were used to motor the engine to further exercise the internal mechanisms. At last, with new fuel pumps, starters, and other miscellaneous components, the engines were started. Great clouds of smoke billowed out of the exhaust as the penetrating oil and engine oil was burned out of each cylinder. Once again the Pratt & Whitney R-2800s roared to life with a sound that can only attributed to a 2,000 hp radial engine. The engines have been started now several times at low power.

The cowling will be put back on the engines, and they will be started and run at cruise power and then at takeoff power. Larry will check for proper manifold pressure and RPMs on each engine to make sure that each cylinder is properly functioning. At this time, the aircraft will be taxied to verify proper brake operation and good steering function. Once the takeoff power runups are conducted several times, the engine oil will be removed and the oil screens will be checked for bits of engine metal. Presence of metal in the screens is not a good thing. It usually means that the main bearing or other moving part in the engine is failing. Hopefully all will be OK. Once the oil screens are checked, the engine will again be filled with oil and further engine tests will be conducted. The aircraft will go through a series of ground tests including high speed taxi tests before being cleared for flight.

At the same time the engines were being worked on, the airframe was being inspected for corrosion, cracks and other nasties. Larry has reported that the wing spar, and aircraft is in good condition. A little cleaning, and TLC will make the airframe ready for future restoration at Aurora. The door hinge will be replaced and cables installed to make the door functional. The cockpit has been cleaned up. Each switch has been sprayed with contact cleaner and exercised. Some of the cable actuators were rusted and were replaced. The propellers have been cycled from low to high pitch with the engine running and seem to be working properly.

The A-26 resurrection team has been working hard to make sure that one of the most historical aircraft at the museum can be brought with us to Aurora. When you seen them, thank them for their efforts as I am sure we will appreciate them in the years to come. I am personally looking forward to flying chase on the A-26 on the trip to Aurora with a cameraman in the back seat videoing and taking pictures of the event!

Air Classics Museum of Aviation
43W624 US Route 30
Sugar Grove, IL 60554
Phone: (630) 466-0888

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