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Can Anyone help this guy get his stolen BT parts back??

Posted by B Darnell on Thu Apr 15, 2004 03:50:11 PM

By Angela Carella
Assistant City Editor

April 15, 2004

On a foggy midnight in June 60 years ago, Harry Vanech piloted his C-47 over the English Channel, wing to wing with hundreds of other transport planes that dropped paratroopers into Normandy, France, on D-Day -- the turning point of World War II.

For the rest of the war, Vanech flew almost daily missions, dropping troopers over Germany, returning to bring them supplies, towing glider planes to Holland and delivering gasoline to Gen. George Patton to fuel the Army's push through France. Often, Vanech's C-47, known as the Skytrain, returned to base full of bullet holes.

After the war, Vanech gave up his dream of being an Air Force pilot to raise a family with his wife, Ethel. But he rekindled his love of flying when he restored a 1941 Vultee BT-13 Valiant, the kind of plane the U.S. military used to train him and tens of thousands of other World War II pilots. Vanech flew the BT-13 out of Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford.

About two years ago, the Stamford veteran, now 84, had to give up his pilot's license.

"The last time I flew, I realized something has happened to my eyes and I couldn't pass the test again," Vanech said. "I've been crying ever since."

But he has not given up his plane. And he has not given up his plan -- to see Alaska from the canopy of the single-engine, single-propeller BT-13, even if someone else has to fly it while he sits in the passenger seat.

Vanech's plan, however, took a hit last week, when some spare airplane parts were stolen from his tent at Sikorsky. Vanech has been selling parts to maintain his BT-13, help pay the $165 a month for storing it at Sikorsky and to buy gasoline to drive to the airport to work on it.

"I go 325 out of 365 days of the year," Vanech said. "I enjoy it so much."

On April 6, he took two aluminum propeller blades, each 52 inches long, to his tent at the airport to work on them. Assembled on a 5-inch hub, the blades form the 109-inch propeller of the BT-13.

Vanech has a buyer for the propeller, but before he can sell it, he has to take the blades to a propeller shop to be certified for flight. Uncertified, the blades are worth about $200 each, Vanech said. Certified, each is worth $2,000 to $4,000.

He didn't finish working on the blades that day, so he left them at the airport overnight. When he returned the next day, they were gone.

"Airport security called Bridgeport police right away," Vanech said. "But the police said there isn't much they can do."

He thinks someone at the airport saw him bring the blades there and waited for him to leave, Vanech said.

"The guy who stole them knew what he was taking," he said.

That's likely, said Sheila Santiago, Bridgeport police spokeswoman.

"The average person would not have a use for them," Santiago said. "Someone knows the potential."

The investigation is open, but there is little to go on, she said.

"Unfortunately, there were no security cameras that would have aided us in this investigation," Santiago said. "We interviewed people at the airport but didn't come up with anything solid."

Vanech's spot is in "the most remote, isolated part of the airport," said Kurt Sendlein, superintendent of operations for Sikorsky.

"Our patrols are out routinely, but we have had kids jump the fence in that area before," Sendlein said. Vanech's tent "is not secure -- someone could have cut it or even just lifted it to get inside. It could have been anyone."

He has been with the airport 13 years and few thefts have been reported, Sendlein said. Sikorsky is base to 240 aircraft, from ultralight planes to large business jets, Sendlein said, but there are few vintage planes.

Vanech has "the only plane of that type here," he said. "I would look at eBay, check pawn shops, check scrap yards."

There may be another avenue. Since the blades would have to be certified before the propeller could be installed on a plane, the thief would have to take them to one of only a few propeller shops.

There are two in Connecticut. New England Propeller in East Haddam doesn't work on Hamilton Standard propellers such as the one for Vanech's BT-13. Sensenich Propeller Service does not work on those propellers in its North Windham shop, but ships them to its shop in Lititz, Pa.

"It's about $2,500 worth of work to get them in shape," said Howard Haws, general manager of Sensenich in Connecticut.

Haws said he is a member of the Worldwide Aircraft Propeller Association, an organization of about 60 "prop shops" around the globe, and offered to e-mail the members about Vanech's missing 6101-12 blades, which fit propellers with the model numbers 2D30 or 12D40. Each blade has a serial number, 417-3643 and 417-3644.

"I'll e-mail the association (this) morning, and they'll send a note out to all the members in the next couple of days," Haws said. "It will be tough to find those blades -- they could have gone in and out of a shop already."

Vanech said he's grateful for whatever help he can get. The BT-13 has allowed him to continue flying. He bought it, dilapidated, from a man in Simsbury for $300 in 1973. He spent 13 years rebuilding it, and, when it was airworthy, he flew it out of Sikorsky for about 16 years.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aviation Registry, there are 217 Consolidated Vultee BT-13s like Vanech's in the United States. There are another 27 BT-13s made by a different company, Convair, and five amateur-built look-alikes.

But only 40 of the planes are flight-worthy, Vanech said.

"I have a list of the names and addresses of all the owners, and that's all there are," he said.

The BT-13 -- BT stands for basic training -- was the most widely used American training plane of World War II. When production ended in 1944, 11,537 had been produced, according to Warbird Alley, a Web site dedicated to military planes.

Vanech prefers the BT-13 -- with a wingspan of 42 feet and a 450-horsepower engine -- to the newer civilian planes, which typically have wingspans of 29 feet and 125-horsepower engines.

"I'm a military pilot," Vanech said. "We don't fly the little puddle jumpers they have around now."

He sold some BT-13 parts to a man out West who once lived in Alaska. They got to talking and the man offered to fly him over Alaska's glaciers and icebergs, as he's always dreamed.

"He said he's tickled pink to do it, so it might happen," Vanech said.

In the meantime, he'd like to find his stolen propeller blades, keep his deal with the man who wants to buy them and earn some money for maintaining his trusty BT-13.

Whoever stole the blades should return them, said Jeff Doyle, who is married to Vanech's granddaughter.

"He's a World War II veteran who put his life on the line for his country," Doyle said. "He's been working on that plane for years. He's not a wealthy guy who can afford to replace the parts."

Stolen BT Parts

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