On October 6, 1918, during his first search of the Lost Battalion, Bleckley thought he had captured a glimpse of the unit. The mission was a terrifying ordeal and Bleckley’s assigned aircraft had been grounded due to damage from heavy enemy fire. Nevertheless, Bleckley volunteered for a second, riskier mission using a borrowed DH-4. That mission was to locate, map and resupply the besieged American soldiers. His strategy: to fly lower and slower to purposely attract enemy fire to pinpoint the missing unit’s position.
This aircraft is historic for several reasons. The FAA considered this airplane to be the ONLY original American built airworthy military DH-4 left in the world. It has its original Liberty engine, including the original controls and instruments. The military markings include Bleckley’s 50th Aero Squadron ‘Dutch Girl’ insignia, his #6 tail number, and the original 1918 manufactured data plate with Bleckley’s aircraft serial number 32517. Four years and almost 10,000 man hours were invested in the research and restoration of this Medal of Honor aircraft. This is the only aircraft identical to the one in which two Medal of Honor awards were earned at the same time.
The centerpiece of the Bleckley Airport Memorial will be this DH-4, displayed at our airport complex. It will serve as the main part of a larger exhibit about Bleckley. This Medal of Honor plane will fly as a living memorial to Bleckley and crewmate Harold Goettler. The rest of the memorial will be housed inside the airport terminal, and will include a life size bronze statue of Bleckley in his aviator’s uniform, his Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as many original artifacts, documents, and photos. This will include a signed letter of condolence from General John J. Pershing to Bleckley’s parents, and an original program from his Medal of Honor presentation at the old Wichita Forum on March 4, 1923.