“Dotttie Mae” has a story to her with a touch of history to go along with it. She is a P-47D Thunderbolt (P47D-28-RA), serial number 42-29150, and manufactured in 1944 at the Republic factory in Evansville, Indiana. She was assigned to the USAAF’s 9th Air Force on December 16, 1944, and served with the 405th Fighter Group, 511th Fighter Squadron.
Lt. Lawrence Kuhl had 17 combat missions in his log book when he was assigned a new P-47 airframe. To honor his wife, he named the plane “Dottie Mae” and had the Roberto Vargas pin up calendar artwork piece titled “Santa’s Little Helper” painted on the side.
After flying in 90 combat missions, Dottie’s flying career came to an end on May 8, 1945 when she crashed into a lake near Ebensee, Austria. Sadly, the incident was not related to combat, but instead as a celebration. The pilot that day, Lt. Henry Mohr, was flying low over a recently liberated concentration camp to boost the morale of the prisoners. However, he came down too low and the propeller blades clipped the water causing the aircraft to crash into the lake. The airframe sank, but luckily Lt. Mohr survived the incident and exited the aircraft. Dottie remained at the bottom of the lake for over 60 years. With the crash, Dottie Mae made history as the last USAAF aircraft lost “in action” in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) during World War II.
In the summer of 2005, Dottie was raised from the lake in Austria, and in 2010 she brought to Idaho for restoration by Vintage Airframes, LLC. Surprisingly, she was reported to be in good shape considering she was in water for over six decades. Some of her original paint still remained including her name and nose art. The aircraft flipped over when she sank. The depth of the water, combined with the silt that collected over her underside surfaces preserved the aircraft nicely. The preservation is similar to the US Navy aircraft that sank in the Great Lakes during WWII.
The team at Vintage Airframes used original wartime design documents to make repairs and components. The owner spared no expense in restoring the aircraft to a “factory new” condition and the results are easily apparent. The preference was to use original parts if possible, then using new old stock or fabrication as a last resort. Dottie returned to the sky on her first post-restoration flight on June 23, 2017.
The aircraft is now owned by the “Allied Fighters” organization, which is based at the Chino, California airport. An excellent area for warbirds considering Planes of Fame Museum and Yank’s Air Museum are also located at the airport.
The return to flight is not the only bright spot in the story. When the restored Dottie was unveiled, three of her former crew were there to see her. Pilots Larry Kuhl (the one that named her) and Ralph Vanderkove were in the audience as well as one of her armorer’s, Leonard Hitchman.
After the war ended, many of the P-47s were scrapped rather than flown back or transported back to the United States. Of the approximately 15,000 P-47s built, Dottie is the only known combat veteran of either the 8th or 9th Air Force ETO area of operations with a combat history.
Dorie now makes many regular appearances at airshows on the West Coast. The casual person may identify the aircraft as a P-47, but few people know her place in history. She is a beautiful aircraft and it has been fun seeing her in her glory.