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War Relic To Fly Again In Chester

Maria Garriga, Register Staff

CHESTER — In a hangar at the Chester Airport, a World War II relic is being resurrected.

The Corsair will fly again, proclaims a sign on the wall.

Craig McBurney, owner and president of Bootstrap Aircraft Restoration, is rebuilding a Corsair aircraft.

He started the company in 1991 with the sole purpose of rebuilding a Corsair and offering it as a "mascot" for Connecticut’s historic aerospace industry.

The Corsair may be the only aircraft ever manufactured entirely in one state. Pratt & Whitney built the engine. Hamilton Standard, forerunner of Hamilton Sundstrand, built the propeller. Sikorsky assembled the body.

"It’s like any other unique, admired item. Advertisers will pay to use it," McBurney said.

So far, Bootstrap Aircraft has been supported by corporate sponsorships from makers of original equipment or companies that manufacture aviation equipment. The company is still in search of a title sponsor.

McBurney bought a damaged Corsair in 1993, and bought an engine in prime condition in 2000. He estimates the cost of restoring the Corsair at $2 million.

In the Chester Airport hangar, a model of the gull-winged World War II fighter plane takes center stage, while an R-2800 radial engine sits in a corner.

"This was a transition engine, from World War II to the jet age," said McBurney.

To help bring in more funding, McBurney, a licensed pilot and aircraft mechanic, works as a World War II aircraft consultant.

He helps fly and restore historic planes for museums and private collectors.

McBurney, 41, grew up in East Haven. In the mid-1970s, he loved watching the NBC television series "Baa Baa Black Sheep," on which the Corsair pilots of the famed Marine Corps Black Sheep Squadron waged war from the skies.

McBurney’s father, Warren, a flight instructor who still lives in East Haven, would often take McBurney on short flights from Tweed-New Haven Airport to Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford.

Sikorsky and its licensees built 12,751 Corsairs between 1940 and 1952.

Young McBurney was in awe of the model Corsair that hovered on a pole over the airfield. He grew up to be an aircraft mechanic and pilot, and his fascination with the Corsair intensified with time.

Designed in 1938, the Corsair was a groundbreaking model that made a name for itself in World War II and Korea. In 1940, it was the fastest thing on wings.

McBurney’s partners include Marnie Sablan, an aircraft mechanic who helps with maintenance and marketing, and Steve Ahern, who is building an educational curriculum around the Corsair.

After 10 years, McBurney still faces a formidable uphill climb, even in the eyes of his supporters.

"As of today, he has an engine and some parts, but he doesn’t have a full fuselage," said Richard Wellman, who retired this year as Pratt & Whitney’s general manager of customer training and director of archives and museum.

Wellman offered McBurney space in the company hangars in East Hartford in 2000, but this year Pratt & Whitney needed to renovate the space.

Whelen Engineering, which makes strobe lights for police cars and ambulances, invited McBurney to use a hangar the company owns at the end of Chester Airport. The move started last week and continues.

Despite the odds, many believe McBurney will make it.

"He is persistent, and persistence wins," Wellman said.

Maria Garriga can be reached at or 789-5685.



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Last modified: September 18, 2012

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