WAPAKONETA — On Wednesday, a beautifully restored orange and white Douglas F5D Skylancer, once flown by Neil Armstrong, returned to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta on the back of a flatbed truck. Thursday morning a small group gathered as the plane was set back on its concrete pad.
The Skylancer had been on display since the Museum opened in 1972 on loan from NASA who, last year, transferred ownership to the Ohio History Connection which operates the museum so it can stay a permanent part of the facility. In September 2017, the plane made the trek to Copley, Ohio for exterior restoration by Thomarios under the direction of the Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA) as the first project in preparation for next year’s 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Thomarios does restoration work on vintage aircraft and spacecraft including the Saturn V rocket on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Douglas F5D was originally developed as a jet fighter for the Navy. During the first flight in April 1956, the aircraft proved easy to handle and performed well. Douglas had only built four F5D Skylancers when the Navy canceled its order because it believed the aircraft was too similar to the Vought F8U Crusader already ordered.
NASA used the four to fly in various military test programs. Two were grounded in 1961 leaving NASA 212 (later NASA 708) to be used as a testbed in the transport program (then retired in 1968) and NASA 213 (later NASA 802) used for simulation of abort procedures, retiring it in 1970. With only two of the initial Skylancers intact, it is now one of the world’s rarest planes.
Armstrong flew the Skylancer during the Dyna-Soar Program, a short-lived project to build manned, reusable space planes that predated the manned Mercury flights. Armstrong was instrumental in developing an aborted launch maneuver using the Skylancer.
“We are fortunate to have found a local team to restore the 60-year-old plane so future generations can experience an experimental aircraft flown by Armstrong,” said Chris Burton, executive director of the Armstrong Museum.
Brittany Venturella, the Museum’s curator, has been working with the Ohio History Connection and Thomarios on the restoration process. Skylancer’s exterior has been restored to when Armstrong flew the plane for NASA. Restoration promotes understanding about an object by returning it to a previous, better condition, rather than just a preservation or conservation measure that stops the deterioration. Part of the restoration process to this plane was to change the number on the tail back to NASA 213 which was the number when Armstrong flew his practice missions.
The cockpit’s interior is being restored separately and will be displayed as a new exhibit inside the museum where visitors can get a closeup look at the various instrument panels and the ejection seat.
Skylancer can be seen predominately displayed in the front of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, 500 Apollo Drive, Wapakoneta, Ohio, exit 111 off Interstate 75.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.