During WWII, manufacturers in Evansville, Indiana began to switch their production lines from manufacturing consumer goods to begin producing military products. By 1942, Evansville factories had received over $600,000,000 (equivalent to $8.5B dollars today) in defense contracts. Evansville would eventually rank as one of the most productive American cities. Over 250 businesses produced over 300 wartime products. Of those businesses, Republic Aviation produced 6,242 P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes.
One of those P-47 Thunderbolts was originally developed as a trainer plane for the U.S. Air Force in May of 1945. In August of 1947, the plane became part of the Venezuelan Air Force and remained there for 28 years. In 1975, the plane became part of a private collection in France where it stayed for 12 years. In 1987, the plane returned to the U.S. by a private collector who had the plane for 11 years. During that time, the plane was restored and given the name of “Big Ass Bird II” after a plane from WWII. The name caused some booking problems in parts of the U.S., so it was renamed “Tarheel Hal” after another P-47 flown during WWII. In 1998, the plane became part of the collection of the Lone Star Museum in Galveston, Texas, where it remained for 22 years.
On Saturday October 17, 2020, The Evansville P-47 Foundation purchased Tarheel Hal as a symbol for all the planes produced in Evansville during WWII.
Shortly after being flown back to Indiana, the plane was renamed “Hoosier Spirit II”. Following the passing of House Bill 1197 on April 26, 2021, the Hoosier Spirit II became Indiana’s State Aircraft. It now lives inside the Evansville Wartime Museum located at 7503 Petersburg Road, just a mile from where it was manufactured by Republic Aviation in 1944. For more information, please visit the Evansville Wartime Museum.