Phillips: decorative wall needed for WWII-era Stearman is a truly worthy expense

A view of a WWII-era Boeing Stearman PT-17 Biplane. (Submitted photo)

Last year Scottsdale City Council unanimously approved a $24 million project, funded by the Airport Enterprise Funds, to build a new terminal for the Scottsdale Airport. The old terminal, built back in 1968, will undergo a complete replacement to a modern facility that is long overdue.

Along with the new building, which will house the Civil Air Patrol, US Customs, administration and a new restaurant with an upstairs observation deck, the city has been approached by a nonprofit group, Thunderbird Field II Veterans Memorial Inc., to display a Boeing Stearman PT-17 Biplane, the very aircraft used for training at the now Scottsdale Airport during WWII.

Guy Phillips

Along with this amazing airplane, restored completely to its former glory, will be a monument with information on Thunderbird Field II (Scottsdale Airport) and its military history. Service plaques for all our armed forces, as well as the revered POW-MIA plaque, will be on display, along with WWII memorabilia on the park-like plaza below the Stearman, which will be hung by cables above.

This nonprofit group is willing to graciously donate the Stearman at a cost to them of over $200,000. Also, they will take care of the maintainance and cleaning completely free to the city of Scottsdale.

Thunderbird Fields II was established back in 1942. There they trained American pilots with 10-20 percent being women! By the time Thundebird II was deactivated in 1944, over 5,500 students had graduated from the Army Air Corp pilot training with over 26 million miles in the Boeing Stearman PT-17. The field was later purchased by the city of Scottsdale in 1966 and became todays’ world renowned Scottsdale Municipal Airport.

In order for the city to receive this magnificent gift of our early history, a required decorative wall must be built around the Stearman to protect it from the elements. The expected expense of this enclosure will be $412,000.

Because of FAA rules, the cost of this protective enclosure cannot be part of the capital budget of the new terminal.

The city council is now looking for ways to fund the enclosure, but time is running out. In order to get the enclosure included in the design blueprints we must act fast.

At our last council meeting, several suggestions were put forth as to how we should fund it or not at all. Some on council suggested we use public art money. Others suggested tourism bed tax. A couple council members balked at using General Fund money as it might appear as an uneeded expense. One area not suggested was capital fund contingency money. Finally council moved to direct staff to come back to us with a more detailed cost analysis and funding mechanisms.

Since then the public art committee has stated they are not willing to use their public art funds since they consider it merely a structure. The tourism task force likewise said it is not really a tourism related expense and again, some council didn’t want to use the General Fund money to fund the enclosure.

It would be a shame to let this gift of a real WWII Boeing Stearman PT-17 Biplane slip through our hands because of beauracratic indifference. I am of the opinion that we could use a percentage of all the funds: tourism, art, and capital to fund this project.  Thundebird Fields II is our legacy and this is our chance to remember and preserve that legacy.

Thank you to the members of Thunderbird Fields II Veterans Memorial Inc. for this once in a lifetime opportunity. If we don’t act, this gift will not come back. That is why I am writing this article, to ask for your help.

If you agree its a worthy expense for our city’s airport and our legacy, then I urge each one of you to contact the city at www.scottsdaleaz.gov/council and urge the council to find the funding source for the Boeing Stearman WWII Biplane enclosure before time runs out.

Editor's Note: Mr. Phillips is a member of Scottsdale City Council.

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