P-47 Thunderbolt named official state aircraft of Indiana

Published: Jun. 24, 2015 at 6:10 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2015 at 9:13 PM CDT
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Men and women who helped build, or fly, the P47
Men and women who helped build, or fly, the P47
(Source: @GovPenceIN)
(Source: @GovPenceIN)

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Governor Mike Pence signed legislation Wednesday naming the P-47 Thunderbolt the official state historic plane.

The P-47 was built in Evansville by Republic Aviation and played a role in almost every major operation of World War II.

Several people who either helped built or fly the plane were on hand for the bill signing, which took place near the future site of the Freedom Heritage Museum on Highway 41.

World War II Veteran Allen Sanderson flew the P-47 Thunderbolt daily during the war.

"It was a great airplane to fly, it took a beating, you could hardly knock it down," Sanderson said. "I guess that's what everybody liked about it."

It's the plane that many say helped win the war.

Organizers brought another important aircraft to town to be the backdrop for Wednesday's signing.

Pilots would earn their wings on an advanced trainer plane and then graduate to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt.

Governor Pence says the legislation will help new generations understand the plane's impact and history.

"This is really about paying a debt of gratitude to people here in Evansville, Indiana," Pence said. "Thousands of Hoosiers whose craftsmanship, hard work and work ethic put nearly 7,000 P-47's in the air."

William Koch helped to assemble the plane at Republic Aviation.

"We would do what we could do with our skills and then once a week, we would have to wash the hanger down and that's what I said earlier…that was a hose fight," Koch said.

And his memories of the Thunderbolt go back even farther - to his high school years.

"What we sold was war bonds and a little over $70,000 worth in 13.5 weeks," he told us.

The class of '44 was able to name a thunderbolt after their high school, the flying bears after the Central High School Bears.

On Wednesday, classmates Jim Hitch and Koch were able to share their involvement of making the airplane with someone who was in the cockpit.

"That meant a lot to us," Sanderson said.

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