Restoring New Mexico history to flying capacity

By Angela Peacock

Tucumcari is no longer just a resting place for road travelers, as of Monday, planes are also making a stop.

After its battle days during World War II, the Beechcraft AT 11 aircraft that was used to train more than 5,400 combat soldiers is making its way back to Albuquerque.

Scott Witshger and Clay Keen, both colonels with the New Mexico Lobo Wing of the Comemorative Air Force, stopped at Jennings’ Furniture Monday to visit Stan Jennings before making the final leg of their five day trip.

Witshger and Keen traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich. where they picked up the Beechcraft to bring it back to New Mexico where it will be restored to flying condition.

“There was so much training for World War II done right here in New Mexico, so having the opportunity to return this aircraft to New Mexico skies is very thrilling,” Witshger said.
Currently the aircraft weighs about 10,000 pounds and after its restored will weigh an estimated 7,800 pounds.

The process to get the antique aircraft back into the air won’t be easy, but Witshger said hopefully the Beechcraft AT 11 will completed and ready to make an appearance at the annual Tucumcari air show within the next couple of years.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran so to help restore a classic World War II aircraft is a privilege,” Witshger said.

Keen is also honored to be working with a piece of New Mexico history. He served in the United States military flying 75 missions in a P38 in Burma and 100 mission in a F86 over North Korea.

Bringing the aircraft halfway across the United States has been an adventure, but Keen said he couldn’t think of a better way to spend his time.

It took Keen and other classic aircraft enthusiasts 12 years to restore a PT26, which currently resides in Albuquerque. It was built in 1942 in Canada is the oldest PT26 in the United States. Witshger said after the Beechcraft AT 11 is restored it will reside with the PT26 at Double Eagle Airport in Albuquerque.

“It’s gorgeous to have a piece of history in New Mexico,” Keen said. “Every man has to have a hobby to keep him busy and out of trouble, and when his wife tells him to get lost he has to have a place to get lost to. Working to restore the air craft is where I get lost to.”