An ambitious campaign to save a unique part of aviation history is on in Michigan but just like the events that created the Willow Run bomber manufacturing plant, the volunteers trying to preserve it face a daunting challenge. The Ford-owned plant, which churned out B-24 Liberators at the astonishing rate of one an hour during the Second World War, was bought by GM in the 1950s and used to build transmissions until 2009. The trust created to manage GM’s assets when it went bankrupt a has been trying to sell the defunct facility but the massive five million-square-foot building has to come down before anyone will buy it, they say. The Michigan Aerospace Foundation wants to preserve 175,000 square feet of the structure to house the new home of the Yankee Aircraft Museum but it needs to raise almost $5 million in six weeks to do it.
The GM trust has scheduled demolition to begin on Aug. 1. The preservation effort has secured $3 million in funding from the state of Michigan but initial fundraising has netted only about $100,000 of the remaining $5 million. The Smithsonian has agreed to donate the last of 8,700 B-24s built at the plant for display in the new museum. In addition to its important aviation heritage, the plant is widely regarded as the birthplace of modern manufacturing with its “just-in-time” inventory control and automated systems.