Air Zoo Launches Restoration Fundraising Campaign for SBD and F-117 Projects

Photo via Air Zoo

Excitement is building at the Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as the museum announces a fundraising competition to complete the restoration of their Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless (Bu.02173) and recently-arrived F-117A Nighthawk (85-0817) before the end of this year (2021).

Anyone who has visited the ‘Air Zoo’, or who follows them on social media, knows that one of their most inspiring experiences is housed in the museum’s Flight Discovery Center. Since 2013, the Air Zoo has proudly boasted one of the nation’s most recognized and respected, community-based aircraft restoration programs. While the pandemic has hit the program pretty hard, restoration continues to advance, fueled by the passion of a talented staff and more than 75 volunteers, all of whom bring their unique expertise and dedication to the Air Zoo’s important work in bringing historic aircraft back to life.

Volunteers of the Air Zoo posing in front for the SBD Dauntless which is undergoing restoration. (All photos via Air Zoo)

The challenges that have accompanied the global pandemic have not been lost on this group of outstanding men and women. They have persevered through safety and policy changes, and a lengthened timeline brought on by a reduction in available volunteers, not to mention a shortage of materials, tools and the financial support necessary to complete these projects. Volunteers and work hours have begun to pick back up, thankfully, and the team is ready and raring to go, with two important deadlines to meet.

The Air Zoo’s restoration team, undaunted by the unexpected funding deficit, has not only continued their hard work on the aircraft, but turned this obstacle into a friendly competition – and they are now inviting the public to join them. For the Air Zoo to complete the SBD and Nighthawk this year (2021), it is critical that they raise significant funds ($50,000 each) to support the final phases of restoration. This funding will cover, but is not limited to, the acquisition of finishing tools, parts fabrication, priming and painting… and this is where community support is critical.

To join the challenge, the public is invited to make a tax-deductible gift to support the plane of their choice and the Air Zoo’s restoration team as they work diligently to cross the finish line. Every dollar counts in this monumental challenge! As Air Zoo volunteer and Team SBD leader, Terri Mucciante, noted: “Even my grandkids are donating $10 and $5. They love coming here and they love seeing this, and so do all the other kids and families who come here.”

Learn more and join the challenge at

The museum’s Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless is a historic World War II Navy aircraft which, as many will recall, was once thought lost forever in Lake Michigan.

An early variant of the Dauntless, Bu. 2173 began its naval service as an SBD-2P photo-reconnaissance aircraft, one of only 14 built. It boasts an interesting history. For example, the aircraft was erroneously designated ‘lost at sea’ in 1942, but went on to fly in the Battle of the Coral Sea that May. However on February 18, 1944, this Dauntless actually did crash into water, on a training exercise over Lake Michigan, rather than the Pacific Ocean. The reported likely cause for this accident came from carburetor icing, rather than enemy flak. Thankfully, the pilot, John Lendo, was not injured in the crash, but Bu.2173 sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan, likely saving it from destruction in the post-war scrapping drive which claimed most other aircraft of similar vintage.

The Dauntless’s left outer wing panel shortly after it arrived for restoration. (image via Air Zoo)

On June 6, 2009, a recovery team retrieved Bu. 2173 from Lake Michigan on behalf of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, then known as the Pacific Aviation Museum. Under an agreement between the Pacific Aviation Museum and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, SBD Bu.2173 was to undergo an extensive restoration, which is where the Air Zoo came into the picture.

The Air Zoo’s Restoration Team received 2173 in July, 2016. Since then, the restoration team has logged more than 36,000 volunteer hours into the refurbishment of this historic aircraft. Upon completion, the SBD-2P Bu. 2173 will return to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, as a national treasure! The goal is to have it completed and delivered by December 7th, 2021 in time for their National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day celebrations – on the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Hawaii. Discover more.

The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk nicknamed Shaba “landed” at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center on December 7th, 2020, after a nearly 2,000-mile trek across the country. The Air Zoo is proud to possess one of the first F-117 Nighthawks released for public display at a non-governmental institution, as well as being the only Michigan museum to have one for display.

The backstory: In the early 1970s, the United States found itself vulnerable to new, advanced air-defense missile systems that integrated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles and air-launched, radar-guided missiles. To mitigate the threat, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a program to develop the necessary technology and strategies for reducing radar detectability in U.S. aircraft.

Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works received the contract award to produce their F-117 in November 1978, with the first flight taking place on June 18th, 1981, just 31 months later! Produced in true Skunk Works fashion – under absolute secrecy – the Nighthawk went on to play an important role in six different conflicts, including Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. During Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991) alone, F-117s flew an impressive 1,271 sorties with an 80% mission success. Only one F-117 was ever lost in combat, and this was in a different conflict over Serbia in March, 1999.

The Museum’s F-117, nicknamed Shaba, first flew on January 8th, 1986 and logged just over 5,000 flight hours. The highly decorated Shaba is one of ten F-117s which flew at least 50 combat sorties and one of just seven to fly in at least three of the four significant campaigns where Nighthawks played a role.

Volunteers at the Air Zoo’s Restoration Center have logged more than 2,800 hours restoring Shaba and plan to have leading edges fabricated, priming, painting and detailing done for her more permanent display in the main gallery of the Air Zoo’s Flight Innovation Center by year’s end.  Discover more.

About the Air Zoo

Located at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage, MI 49002, the Air Zoo is a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace & science experience with over 100 rare air & space craft, inspiring interactive exhibits, indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, hands-on science-based education programs, and more.  The Air Zoo is a not-for-profit organization and is open 360+ days per year. For hours, tickets, safety policies and procedures as well as temporarily altered experiences due to COVID-19, visit


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