As a crane swung a P-51 Mustang fighter plane over the pole which will be its home, the crowd seemingly held its breath. Six men pulled on the ropes to help guide the 2,500 pound fiberglass model into its proper position. When the underside of the plane finally was able to rest on the plate at the top of the pole, the small crowd applauded happily. A volunteer for the Military Aviation Preservation Society (MAPS), Faith Barnett, helped paint the life-sized model plane says she believes visitors should be able to find the museum easier.
The museum has 40 plans and dozen other artifacts from other military aviators. The museum is almost 25 years old and has attracted 28,000 visitors within the past year. Despite its success, it is still considered to be one of Ohio’s best kept secrets. The museum consists of three buildings which is hidden away at the furthest part of International Parkway near the Akron-Canton Airport. The museum has been marked by a small roadside sign for years; however, now the WWII Mustang fighter plane will let everyone know the location of the museum.
The Mustang fighter plane is set on top of a spinner so whichever way the wind blows, the plane will point in that direction. Among the small crowd, Robert E. Withee has a special connection to the plane. The recreated model was painted to replicate the P-51 that he piloted during the Second World War–from the blue and white strips and the star under its wing to the “Jean Ann” painted near the tip of the nose.
Withee stated that Jean Ann was his late wife. The couple got engaged the same day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, thus marking the USA’s entrance into the war. Withee tells Ohio.com that when the pair was trying to announce the engagement to her father, he ignored them and focused on the news that was broadcasting over the radio. Until that moment, Withee was in the dark about the attack.
In his fighter plane, Withee was able to shoot down four Japanese aircraft. He, himself, was knocked out of the sky once when another plane clipped the side of his plane. As a result of that, Withee received two purple hearts.