The Willow Run Assembly plant is well past its glory days. Where it was once a key component in the Arsenal of Democracy, employing a staggering 40,000 workers, and fully assembling the legendary B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress bombers every 57 minutes — planes that rained hell on the Axis Powers — its vast structure is now slowly decaying, its floors, made of wooden blocks, so covered in grime that you could be fooled into thinking you’re walking on black dirt. Its corridors so dimly lit you wonder why nobody’s thought of filming a horror film within the facility. And to think Rosie the Riveter once worked here…
There’s a sense of eeriness when stepping into something so vast –175,000 square feet — and yet so empty, unkempt and devoid of activity. As the massive 36-feet-tall hanger door swung open, it’s easy to envision a war-ready B-29 emerging out onto the tarmac. But there’s no plane, little light, and no motion, just the lifting clang of the door echoing off musty equipment left over by General Motors following the plant’s closure in 2010.
The Willow Run plant, literally right next door to Willow Run Airport outside of Ypsilanti, Michigan, produced many things over the 68 years it was in operation, and ironically, was built by Ford. After birthing squadrons of bombers during World War II, and being owned by Kaiser-Fraser for eight years thereafter, General Motors took control of the plant and began producing automobiles in 1959, starting with the Chevrolet Corvair. Then came the Nova in ’62, and FWD X-Body vehicles like the Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile Omega beginning 1980. However, the area that made up the old plant produced transmissions well after GM stopped building vehicles at the manufacturing complex. At the end of 2010, the plant defaulted to RACER Trust, who now oversees the entire property.
Now, the historic plant is on the brink of being unceremoniously demolished. But on this eleventh hour, there’s hope.
Enter the Yankee Air Museum, and the vision of transforming the unwanted bomber plant facility into a new aeronautics museum, one that would allow for multiple levels, and even the possibility of aircraft hanging from the ceiling, thanks to the building’s sturdy skeleton. But to get there, the “Save the Bomber Plant” campaign — with Bob Lutz and retired NASA astronaut Jack Lousma serving as co-chairmen — needs to raise $8 million in funds. So far, the Yankee Air Museum has managed to raise $4.5 million — $2 million of that from General Motors — but is still very short of its goal.
Originally, the deadline was August 1st, but thanks to an extension, the Save the Bomber Plant campaign now has until October 1st to raise the necessary funds to make the new museum a reality, and save a piece of history. Those who are looking to get behind saving the Willow Run bomber plant can visit the campaign’s website, and donate to help the cause.