Read the Latest News

What's Up at the Air Zoo?

(besides aircraft and space artifacts)

We always have fun and exciting things to share with you.  Please check back often for exhibit information and openings, event details, special Air Zoo visitors, educationand  program announcements and soooo much more!

Media contact:
Nikki Statler, Director of Marketing  |  269.350.2811

The Air Zoo's Fund Your Favorite restoration campaign soars toward the finish line with announcement of two major gifts

In April, the Air Zoo announced a massive fundraising competition to complete the restoration of the Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless (Bu. No. 2173) and the F-117 Nighthawk Shaba (tail number 817) in 2021. In just two short months, the museum’s donors stepped up to the challenge and raised nearly $10,000 towards the completion of the restoration of these historic aircraft.  

Fueled by the energy in the community, the Tyler Little Family Foundation joined in the cause and pledged an additional $10,000 in late May to support the restoration of the F-117 Nighthawk Shaba – bringing the fundraising goal for the restoration of this aircraft to 30%.  

“This impactful gift, and all of the people who have stepped up to support this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, are really helping to move the needle on this amazing project,” shared Air Zoo President & CEO, Troy Thrash. “We are so excited to see this project moving toward the finish line and cannot wait for it to, one day soon, be on display in our community.”  

Not to be left behind, the SBD caught its own fundraising windfall in May. The Air Zoo is pleased to share that the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation caught news of the competition and have joined in the challenge with a $45,000 pledge to support the completion of the SBD by the first of November. With 95% of the funding goal raised, the SBD has slid into the lead position – just in time for the Air Zoo’s staff and volunteers to ramp up restoration of this aircraft with the goal of sending it back to Pearl Harbor in time for a dedication on the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.  

“If we can complete this project,” shared Thrash, “and have this aircraft back in Pearl Harbor in time for the anniversary… well, that will be powerful beyond words – not just for our team, but for the family of the pilot who flew and crashed this aircraft and for everyone who has had a hand in this project.”  

To join the challenge and help fund both projects to completion, the public is invited to make a tax-deductible gift to support the plane of their choice and the Air Zoo’s restoration team as they work diligently to cross the finish line. Every dollar counts in this monumental challenge! Learn more and join the challenge at .


The Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless (Bu. No. 2173) is a historic World War II Navy aircraft once thought lost forever in Lake Michigan.  

An early version of the Dauntless (Bu. No. 2173) was delivered to the Navy as an SBD-2P photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Fourteen SBD-2Ps were built and the 2173 is the only one remaining of its kind. It boasts a most interesting history. For example, Bu. No. 2173 was erroneously designated lost at sea in 1942 but went on to fly in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The aircraft actually crashed into Lake Michigan on February 18, 1944, during a training exercise – presumably due to carburetor icing. The pilot, Lieutenant John Lendo, was not injured in the crash.  

On June 6, 2009, Bu. No. 2173 was retrieved from Lake Michigan on behalf of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, then known as the Pacific Aviation Museum. Under an agreement between the Pacific Aviation Museum and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, SBD 2173 was to undergo an extensive restoration. 

The Air Zoo’s Restoration Team received the aircraft in July of 2016.  Since then, more than 36,000 volunteer hours have been logged restoring this mighty aircraft.  Upon completion, the SBD-2P (Bu. No. 2173) will return to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, as a national treasure! The goal is to have it completed and delivered by December 7, 2021 in time to be dedicated during their National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day celebrations. Discover more. 


The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Shaba “landed” at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Centeron December 7, 2020, after a more than 1,940-mile trek across the country. The Air Zoo is proud to possess one of the first F-117 Nighthawks released for public display at a non-government institution, as well as the only museum in the state of Michigan to exhibit one. 

The backstory: In the early 1970s, the United States found itself vulnerable to new, advanced air-defense missile systems that integrated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and air-launched radar-guided missiles. To mitigate the threat, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a program to develop the technology and strategies necessary to reduce radar detectability in U.S. aircraft. 

Lockheed Skunk Works was awarded the contract to produce the F-117 in November 1978, with the first flight taking place on June 18, 1981, just 31 months after winning the contract. Produced in true Skunk Works fashion – under absolute secrecy – the Nighthawk went on to play an important role in six operational campaigns including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991) alone, it flew an impressive 1,271 sorties with 80% mission success. Only one F-117 was ever lost in combat. 

Shaba (tail number 817) first flew on January 8, 1986 and has just over 5,000 flight hours. The highly decorated Shaba is one 10 F-117s to fly at least 50 combat sorties and one of seven to fly in at least three of the four significant campaigns employing Nighthawks.  

Volunteers at the Air Zoo’s Restoration Center have logged more than 2,800 hours restoring Shaba and plan to have leading edges fabricated, priming, painting and detailing done for her more permanent display in the main gallery of the Air Zoo’s Flight Innovation Center by year end.  Discover more. 

About the Air Zoo  

Located at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage, MI 49002, the Air Zoo is a non-profit, Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace & science experience with over 100 rare air & space craft, inspiring interactive exhibits, indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, hands-on science-based education programs, and more.  The Air Zoo is a not-for-profit organization and is open 360+ days per year.  

For hours, tickets, safety policies and procedures as well as temporarily altered experiences due to COVID-19, visit  

DID YOU KNOW that the Air Zoo is a non-profit organization that relies on the support of our community to thrive? Visit to make an impact with a tax-deductible donation today!

Posted by Nikki Statler at 10:00 AM
Share |

Come visit us.