Urbana, Ohio — Here's a story that dates back more than a decade and has years to go before being finished.
A story that involves lots of metal, but plastics play a central role.
A story about how one family, and then hundreds of volunteers, have come together to support an effort to keep a part of American — and world — history alive.
Dave Shiffer is the kind of guy who will quickly brush aside any credit for the ongoing B-17 bomber restoration project taking place in Urbana. He makes it clear that this effort is beyond both him and his family.
But the truth is his family, which owns plastics processor Tech II Inc., has been central to the project from the beginning.
It was the Shiffer family that committed to buying B-17 parts in 2005 to serve as the basis for the project.
And Shiffer, today, serves as executive director of the Champaign Aviation Museum at Grimes Field Airport, where the project is housed.
That's where tens of thousands of hours have been logged by more than 300 volunteers over the years who are interested in seeing the plane dubbed the Champaign Lady someday take to the skies.
"It's such an iconic airplane, famous from World War II, that people want to volunteer to get them flying. We thought if we could get a few volunteers. That was the plan," Shiffer remembered.
Also known at the Flying Fortress, the B-17 helped defeat Germany by making daylight bombing runs from England. And one day, the plane will fly the skies of Urbana.
This story of how such a restoration project ended up in a tiny Ohio town, like all other stories, has a beginning. And it's tragic.
It was Shiffer's father who originally got the call about taking on the airplane project. Jerry Shiffer had enjoyed being able to ride in a restored B-17 that had flown into Urbana in 2005. Aviation is important to the family, and Jerry often would use his own private plane to make customer calls for Tech II.
A crew member of that working B-17 later contacted Jerry Shiffer with a proposal. He had another B-17 project looking for a home.
"As a family, we decided to purchase the project and we thought this would be a good project communitywide," Dave Shiffer remembered.
"In 2005, the family, including my dad, committed to buying the project and getting it started. When pieces were just starting to arrive at the Grimes Field Airport, he was on a flight, he was the pilot, and crashed and died on the very day the first B-17 pieces were coming here," Shiffer said.
"We spent that night with no knowledge of his whereabouts. His airplane hadn't arrived at its destination," he said. "The next morning, they found the airplane crashed."
The death of Jerry Shiffer put the family at a crossroads, not only for the airplane project, but for the plastics business as well.
"At Tech II, my dad was the entrepreneur that started the darn thing. So we had two discussions: What do we do with the company and what do we do with the B-17 project," Shiffer said.
The answer, for both, was to keep going.
"We're starting this project basically from scratch. We got in some pieces that needed to be rebuilt from five different serial numbered airplanes. The project started in January 2006, so we've been going for over 10 years now. We will have it completed in the next six or seven years, hopefully. This is a flying project. We are building this to fly," Shiffer said.