The Lacey Lady is a World War II-era B-17G bomber. For years it sat above Art Lacey’s gas station in Milwaukie, Oregon. It was long a recognized landmark of the community. The gas station, too, was a great success. At one point it was the largest volume single unit station in the country.
The bomber paid a steep price for its service as a landmark and marketing ploy. Birds, weather and time took their toll on the plane. Now the Lacey family is working to restore the “Lacey Lady” back to flying condition.
Jayson Scott is Art Lacey’s grandson. He was cleaning the plane one day and noticed that it could use a more thorough cleaning than they usually gave it. The project ended up taking several months. While scrubbing the bomber, he noticed that the bird droppings, weather and time were taking a toll on the plane. He called the family together and explained that something needed to be done if they were going to keep the plane.
This began the 12-year plan to restore the plane to flying condition. Currently, it is sitting in a climate-controlled hangar, dismantled. The family has spent $500,000 of their own money to get it this far, but buying replacement parts or fabricating new parts costs money and they are looking for donors to help out.
In 2006, they started the non-profit organization, The B-17 Alliance, to meet the goal of turning the plane into a flying museum. The family intends to take the plane around the country to share the stories of World War II veterans. If they meet their goal, it will be one of less than a dozen B-17s that can fly.
In 1947, Art Lacey told some friends at a party that he was going to buy a B-17 bomber and put it over his gas station. One of the friends bet $5 that he’d never do it. Art turned to another friend and borrowed $15,000 ($160,000 in today’s money). He then flew to Altus Air Base in Oklahoma and bought a surplus B-17 from the War Assets Administration. While taking some test flights, one of the landing gears jammed and he had to land the plane on its belly. It slid into a parked B-17 in the process.
After Art confessed that, while he was a pilot, he had never flown a B-17 before, the War Assets Administration worker took pity on Art and sold him another B-17 for the $1500 he had left over after buying the first plane. This is the plane he brought home, with help from a couple of friends, and installed over his gas station. The restaurant opened that same year.
For a while, the family allowed the public to walk through the plane. It is estimated that over a million people have been in this B-17.
In the meantime, the family has opened the B-17 Alliance Museum & Restoration Hangar in 2015 to allow the public to view the work being done on the plane. They also have displays with personal stories of WWII veterans from the area.
The alliance has accumulated hundreds of artifacts and memorabilia from maps and uniforms to news articles and personal letters. They have interviewed pilots and crewmembers and created an oral history of WWII and the men who flew in it. Their library of over 3,000 books is the largest in Oregon. Those books cover nearly every aspect of WWII.
The Boeing B-17G “Flying Fortress” was a four-engine bomber that was designed to have great range and endurance. In fact, they flew farther, faster and higher than any other airplane in its class. It was also designed to be produced quickly and easily. Over 12,000 B-17s were built for the war.