By Luc Zipkin
Valiant Effort, LLC, a partnership that is restoring Vultee BT-13A Valiant 41-21218, has released the January 2024 edition of Hangar Town News, their monthly newsletter full of updates on the warbird restoration project. Though the story of Annie, as they call their Valiant, begins at the Vultee factory in Downey, California in 1941, the restoration has more recent roots. On October 16th, 2018, Annie was involved in an accident at Livermore Municipal Airport in Livermore, California; the pilot lost control of the aircraft and ran off the runway, through a safety area, and into a fence. Thankfully, there were no injuries. However, Annie suffered a landing gear collapse and other damage. Valiant Effort bought the airplane and soon embarked on their ongoing restoration of the historic trainer, based out of Livermore, California. Now, Valiant Effort has provided fascinating new details on their BT-13’s wartime history through their newsletter, as well as further updates on the restoration project.
Annie was purchased by the Army Air Corps on March 14th, 1942, and assigned to the 540th Flight Training School, Squadron E-524 at Merced Army Airfield in Merced, California. During the War, hundreds of pilots were trained at Merced, including many in Annie herself. Valiant Effort has done a lot of research to determine, within a reasonable degree of certainty, which individuals might have started as pilots aboard their airplanes. Among these were 1Lt. Thomas E. Eaton, 2Lt. Isaac F. Helms, and 1Lt. Fred D. Olsen, each of whom were tragically killed in action later in the war, flying the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, respectively. They also believe that Florence “Shutsy” Reynolds, a WASP pilot during World War II who went on to commission as an officer after the war and served in the Air Force from 1949 to 1960, may have flown Annie. Valiant Effort is working hard to make sure that their service and sacrifice are appropriately remembered.
Following the end of the war, Annie’s history, like many historic airplanes, leaves some gaps. In 1983, though, she surfaces in the hands of Tom Nightingale of Alta Loma, California, before heading to Martin R. Micaud of Monte Vista, California in 2008. In 2019, she was purchased following the accident the previous year by the current group, Valiant Effort, LLC, with used landing gear installed on the wreck to move the airplane away from the site of the crash. In 2020, the team evaluated the extent of the required repairs and acquired numerous ‘new’ parts for the restoration. The following year, they addressed issues with the tailwheel and rudder, installed new control cables and pulleys, rebuilt the tailwheel strut; in 2022, they removed the engine and propeller and sent the prop out for overhaul, and overhauled or replaced the oil hoses, fuel hoses, propeller governor, oil cooler, and carburetor, as well as cleaning out the fuel system. The major projects in 2023 were the installation of a new engine overhauled propeller and the rebuild of the landing gear, including the brakes.
During the rebuild, the team discovered the name “Annie” scrawled on the wing spar in an area only accessible during assembly. Valiant Effort believes this to be a note from a bona fide “Rosie the Riveter,” one of the many women who assembled aircraft for Vultee, the first military aircraft manufacturing company to ensure equal pay for women, and they christened 41-21218 as Annie as a result. Greg Ely, who prepares Hangar Town News, says that the team is hoping for engine test runs in spring 2024. “Our goal,” he says, “is not to make a superclass restoration, but to do things right, keep all the ‘dents and dings’ that show her age, and make it a regular flying airplane … We are only a small group hoping to keep this historic airplane in the air … when you look at the time frame, we’re not doing too bad!” You can learn more about Valiant Effort’s restoration of their BT-13 at their website.