ELLSWORTH AFB - The steel-slicing machine made its first cut, and the right wing of the concept stealth bomber started separating from the fuselage. Several more blows, and the wing was a separate piece of twisted metal on the ground next to the static aircraft display.
The stealth-bomber mock-up exhibit at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum was on the chopping block to make way for the display of a B-1B Lancer long-range bomber. The museum is outside the main gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base, home to about half of the nation's B-1 fleet.
North American Honda built the mock-up of the stealth bomber and donated it to the museum in 1989, according to museum director Ron Alley.
Alley said the agreement with Honda was that museum officials would destroy the fake aircraft if another display took its place.
"We couldn't put it on display anywhere else," Alley said.
Ace Steel & Recycling of Rapid City is in charge of the dismantling. As the slicer made smaller pieces of the plane, it also loaded them onto a truck.
"We'll take these pieces back to our shop and cut them into smaller pieces, probably no longer than 2 feet in length. The steel will then be trucked to Nucor Steel Mill in Norfolk, Neb.," said Bill Huebner, one of the owners of Ace. Nucor will make new structural steel from the pieces.
Alley said the museum replaced the faux stealth bomber after learning the museum could get a real aircraft - one that represents the base's mission. He said the display B-1, already at Ellsworth, should be in place by the end of November.
"We'll tow it down the road from where it is now, near the flight line, and bring it through the (west) fence. We have a little bit of work to do before that happens," Alley said. Because the B-1 is a larger aircraft than the stealth-bomber exhibit, the display area in front of the museum's main entrance needs enlarging.
Alley said towing the B-1 to its new location is expected to take a day.
Ellsworth personnel remove all of the reusable parts from active duty aircraft - including the engines - before an aircraft goes on display, Alley said. They also drain all of the fuel and any other fluids from the aircraft.
Alley said the new B-1 display is one of six at air bases across the nation. In addition to Ellsworth, Dyess in Texas, Mountain Home in Idaho, McConnell in Kansas, Hill in Utah and Robins in Georgia got long-range bombers for static displays.
"It will help our visitation numbers because there aren't that many on display. The museum is becoming one of those attractions people are making a point of coming to see," Alley said. The museum welcomes about 200,000 visitors each year.
Alley said the museum doesn't allow visitors inside
any of the aircraft on display because of liability issues.
Because the museum is part of the Air Force museum system, the B-1 is still part of the Air Force. That means there was little cost to the local facility to get the B-1.
Alley said the museum has an "adopt an aircraft" program and that different units on the base help with maintenance of the displays. Each summer, several of the displays receive new paint jobs.
The museum first opened in a small facility on base in 1983. In the fall of 1988, base personnel moved several hangars to the current location, and the museum reopened in the summer of 1989.
The museum started with eight aircraft and now has 28 static displays, including missiles, said Alley, who joined the museum in 1987.
Contact Bill Cissell at 394-8412 or firstname.lastname@example.org