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North American B-25 Mitchell, 1944. (USAF)

The Soplata Airplane Sanctuary

Of the 20 stray aircraft his father rescued, the author remembers that first bomber best

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(Continued from page 4)

Up through 1972, Dad and I collected aircraft purchased from private individuals, aviation schools, and other non-military sources—a Douglas B-26, two Grumman TBM Avengers, a North American SNJ Texan, a Curtiss O-52 Owl.

The warbird restoration movement picked up steam about then, with others snapping up the last of the cheap and derelict World War II aircraft. Prices skyrocketed, knocking Dad out of the market. Also that year, I enlisted in the Air Force as an electronics technician and a few years later attended Air Force ROTC to become an officer and a pilot, breaking up our father-and-son airplane-hauling team.

On Sunday afternoons in the 1960s and 70s, it was common to have 30 or so visitors touring the Soplata collection. Parents and kids could climb into the cockpits of a BT-13, BT-15, T-50, T-28, SNJ Texan, FG-1D Corsair, F2G Corsair, TBM Avenger, AD Skyraider, F-82E Twin Mustang, P-80 Shooting Star, F-84F Thunderstreak, F-86L Sabre, F7U Cutlass, B-25J, Douglas B-26, and a P2V Neptune. But for the past 20 years, Dad’s collection has been closed to visitors. Now 83 and a regular on the flea market circuit, Dad has expanded the scope of his collecting to include anything and everything. To support his perpetual appetite for collecting, many of his aircraft have been sold. The first to go, in 1986, was Wild Cargo, which was restored for flight in 2005. It is the first of Dad’s refugees to fly again.

The P-80 is owned by the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. The F-82E Twin Mustang is being restored to airworthiness in Minnesota. The F2G Corsair belongs to Cleveland’s Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum and is partially restored for static display while awaiting funds for completion. The status of a basket-case P-51 sold in the 1980s remains undetermined.

As Dad’s collecting eventually dominated every facet of family life, my sisters and I simply learned to fend for ourselves, finding after-school jobs to pay for things we needed. That said, my sisters and I all agree we are stronger adults, perhaps because of our childhood experience. To this day, we all remain on good terms, with “tolerance” being a word we all know well. There hasn’t been a family gathering at my parents’ home in over 30 years. There simply isn’t room.

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