Ithaca Times

Thomas-Morse Scout Plane Comes Home to Dryden

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 11:42 am | Updated: 11:32 am, Thu Jan 10, 2013.

Living history is right before your eyes in Dryden on Southworth Road. History that you can see and touch.

The Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation has successfully obtained a Thomas-Morse S-4 Scout plane built in Ithaca for World War I and brought it home. The foundation’s goal was to bring one of the remaining twelve “Tommies” home and restore it to flying condition.

The foundation considers the hardest part is over. With only twelve of the model B Tommies left, they had quite the difficult hurdle to overcome. The process had begun 10 years ago and some people weren’t sure they were going to acquire the plane.

But through the generosity of Dr. William N. Thibault of San Diego, CA, a Tommy in excellent condition was donated to the foundation. Thibault was a private owner of the plane and strongly felt that the plane did belong back in Ithaca. The foundation is extremely grateful to Thibault for the donation of the plane.

The plane is being restored in Dryden in a building that Albert Height generously donated for them to use. Up until December 2011, they had been restoring the plane in Emerson Power Transmission, which is one of the factories where the plane was originally built for World War I. Emerson Power Transmission closed in December and the foundation had to find a new location to work on the plane. Emerson told them that if they found a new space, they would donate equipment for the project.

That’s when Height stepped in and offered his building. What is especially neat about the plane now being restored in Dryden is that Paul Wilson of Dryden was a test pilot during World War I.

The Tommy planes were built just for that. Pilots trained in the plane prior to going overseas. The Thomas-Morse Aeroplane Company built 100 Model B Tommy planes as a prototype for training. When the prototype was successful, the military wanted more so the company built over 600 model C planes. The Ithaca company was the fourth largest aeroplane supplier in the United States for World War I.

The Dryden Historical Society, along with the foundation, hosted an event on Thursday, September 27, where people from the area could look at the progress on the plane, see the parts of the plane, and hear about what they’ve been doing so far.

President of the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation Don Funke is heading up the project. “Probably the most unique thing is the fact that it is part of the heritage and history of aviation in the Finger Lakes area and that we are able to preserve that heritage, that history of early aviation,” he said.

He said that part of their goal is to restore the plane to exactly the same configuration that it was in when it left the Ithaca factory in 1918. They have tried to keep everything original to the plane and just about the only thing they have changed is the glue. The glue that was originally used was animal glue and Funke said that they aren’t using that for safety reasons.

The foundation would like to be able to fly Tommy on her centennial birthday celebration and then have it on permanent historical display for all to enjoy.

Mark Hartsuyker, who owns his own production company, Recording Raccoon Studios, got involved in the project because he was looking for a non-profit that was looking to get their story told. He recently produced a video for it which was shown at the event and can be seen at the website www.tommycomehome.org. He has been working with the project for a year and half now and he loves what they’re doing.

“There’s so much virtualness . . . I think the thing that’s so thrilling about this project is that people can actually reach out, they can touch the project. They can interact with it. They can help rebuild,” he said.

Anybody can be a part of this project and so far everyone who’s been involved in it so far has come from within 20 miles of where the project is being done. They’re looking for volunteers to work on the plane every day. The project will be completed by volunteers and the local Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association with guidance from the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum restoration shop. If you would like to volunteer you can email them at tomasaero@aol.com. If you want more information on the project, you can visit the earlier mentioned website.

The foundation is a not-for-profit corporation and this project is only being made possible by donations. Even some equipment needed for the plane has been donated which makes the story of Tommy coming home that much more incredible. If you would like to donate to the project you can send your tax exempt donation to Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation, Inc., c/o Randall B. Marcus, Treasurer, 119 East Seneca Street, Ithaca.

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