Suburban man rebuilding a B-17 bomber

June 14, 2011 (MARENGO, Ill.)

But ABC7's Frank Mathie found a man in the area who is restoring his own B-17 bomber.

In a barn in a rural area of the far northwest suburbs, an unbelievable restoration project is under way. A World War II bomber is being restored to flying condition. The man behind this almost lifelong dream is Mike Kellner. He and a team of volunteers is turning scrap into a flying fortress.

"This is a B-17E bomber that was built in '41. We've been working on it now for 20 years," said Kellner.

It's the same type of restored aircraft that crashed Monday, the same plane that turned the tide in World War II by flying deep into enemy territory and bombing strategic targets despite heavy losses.

And now this flying fortress, which was christened "The Desert Rat" during the war, is bringing back war images from another century.

But, for Kellner, it's been a takeoff on a long, long runway.

"We found it basically in a junkyard in Maine," said Kellner. "The people that bought it cut it up in to sections right after the war and then abandoned it. And that's the state we found it in."

The Desert Rat didn't see combat in World War II, but it do its part by flying wounded troops in Indochina from war zones to safety.

Why restore an old World War II bomber like this? Well, perhaps it is because of this: Over 4,000 B-17s were shot down with over 40,000 crew members. Now that's important history.

"Without this airplane, many have said that we would have had a hard time or maybe not been able to win the war," Kellner said.

Someday, Kellner's desert rat will be worth lots of money, but he's not selling. He's going to fly it. And when he does his spirits will be 12 o'clock high.

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