A historic World War II B-24J bomber plane, the only one of its kind still flying, is being preserved for generations to come thanks to the work of a team of West Coast detailers.

Kyle Franko, a Mountain Pointe graduate and owner of Bulldog Detail, was part of a 15-person volunteer crew that refinished the exterior of the B-24J plane at Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, Calif.

The plane, owned by the Collings Foundation, is part of the Wings of Freedom Tour which takes historic planes across the country and allows the public to walk through or even take a flight on some of the planes.

More than 18,000 B-24 Liberators were made during WWII but this is the only one still flying. The plane received a multi-million dollar restoration in 1989 but was now in need of a full reconditioning and painting to restore the badly-oxidized paint.

“I love vintage aircraft,” said Jose Fernandez, owner of Superior Shine in California. “One day I heard the distinctive sound of vintage radial engines and looked up. To my surprise there was a B-24 Liberator flying over me. As far as I knew none were airworthy.

“I researched it and found that the Collings Foundation owned and operated ‘Witchcraft,’ the only WWII Flying B-24J. I joined their Facebook page and noticed that the aircraft was in poor cosmetic condition. When they made their way near me during their Wings of Freedom tour I met with them and offered my services.”

With support from Ace Clearwater Enterprises, Meguiars, Autogeek and the Lyon Air Museum, Fernandez assembled a team including Franko who has owned his own business since 2011.

“It was an awesome opportunity,” Franko said. “The whole group of people there were very good and professional. It was a lot of fun … This was kind of a stepping stone for more projects.”

Franko said now that he has worked on one airplane he has already been asked to take part in the restoration of another WWII aircraft, a B-29. Someday he hopes to work his way up to become part of the team that works on Air Force One.

“I enjoy the transformation,” he said. “Bringing a dull finish that wasn’t taken care of and seeing what it can look like.”

Fernandez said plans for B-17 and a B-29 restorations are in the works.

For more information on the Wings of Freedom Tour visit www.collingsfoundation.org.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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