Seventy-five years to the day after the Tulsamerican was lost on its final mission, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum dedicated an exhibit to the fabled B-24 Liberator bomber.
The last B-24 built at the Douglas plant in Tulsa in July 1944, the Tulsamerican went down after taking damage from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire on Dec. 17, 1944.
The plane crashed while attempting an emergency landing at the Croatian island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea. Three crew members — pilot Eugene Ford, flight engineer Charles E. Priest and navigator Russell C. Landry — died in the crash.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, surviving family members of the crew and others gathered around a reproduction of Tulsamerican’s nose. The aluminum mockup, complete with original nose art and the gunner’s turret, is a result of Houston-based METECS, which also built a virtual reality presentation that is part of the exhibit.
Patrick Hoey, chairman of the board of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, said the new exhibit is an excellent addition to the representation of aerospace history in the city. Hoey, whose father was a B-24 ball turret gunner on a different plane, said it’s “a great deal of honoring our past and our history of aviation in Tulsa.”
“The effort it took to produce that many bombers is awesome — and to have all the history that we’ve got about that particular aircraft.”
After a candlelight vigil at 3:12 p.m., the time Tulsamerica’s engines cut out and it plunged into the water, the exhibit opened with a ribbon cutting. Now with the help of virtual reality and a trove of photographs, museum visitors can relive the plane’s construction, its short war career and its final mission.
Above the countless photos in the recreated nose, there’s a mockup of the B-24’s cockpit glass. One of the pieces is a worn and weathered piece of plexiglass divers recovered from the wreck site.
Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray, who has spent years researching the Tulsamerican and is a member of the museum’s board, said it lets patrons see as the crew did.
“When you look through that little window, you’re looking through a piece of the Tulsamerican,” Gray said. “We wanted to make sure anybody who came here, anybody who visited, could look through the same windows and look with the same eyes through the same view that Tulsamerican’s crew looked through 75 years ago.”
Other than showcasing the plane, Gray said the exhibit honors the human stories of the Tulsamerican.
From those lost on the final mission, to those who ferried the plane from Topeka, Kansas, to its base in Italy, to line workers who signed their names and addresses on the airframe as it was built, they’re all part of the story, Gray said.
“The reason we are doing this today, the reason we’ve done the exhibit we’ve done, the reason we’ve done the virtual reality is because these are stories worth telling,” Gray said. “These are stories worth remembering, and they shouldn’t be forgotten.”