Aviation Museum Gets Restored WW1-Era Plane as Centerpiece of New Collection

DH-4B airplane. Source: War History Online
DH-4B airplane. Source: War History Online

Bob Cromwell, the manager of Pearson Air Museum, helped reassemble a vintage aircraft that will serve as the centerpiece of their new collection. The aircraft is a historical part of the beginnings of Army aviation.

“I can’t believe it,” Cromwell said. “I’m actually able to help physically put her together. As a boy, I was interested in historic aircraft. It was always my dream to work on a warbird. I can’t believe I’m working on a warbird.”

That warbird is a DeHavilland DH-4B. It’s a WWI-era biplane that the British used in combat 100 years ago.

Visitors to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site will get to view the historic plane. This particular model is the DH-4B Liberty. It was made in the U.S. and is named for its Liberty engine.

“This represents the very beginnings of Army aviation at Pearson Field,” said Cromwell, “It’s a very rare survivor of that 1920s era.”

Century Aviation in East Wenatchee restored the plane. They began with an intact tail section, used DH-4B parts that they had on hand, and used 2,000 factory drawings to have replacement parts made to DeHavilland’s specifications.

Century Aviation has restored similar aircraft for the National Museum of the US Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia and the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

This Liberty won’t fly. It is only for display. It was painted to look like the one flown from Pearson Field by Lt. Oakley Kelly. Kelly was commander of the Army’s 321st Observation Squadron from 1924 to 1928.

They stayed true to a 1925 photograph of the plane. Visitors will note that the typical US Army stars are nowhere to be seen on the aircraft for that reason.

The National Park Service purchased the plane for $125,000. That’s an increase of price by 10x compared to what a Liberty would have cost new in 1918. The original price was around $11,250.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE