By MIKE COURSON
Great Bend Post
American Legion Post 320 plays a large role in the Ellinwood community. Ken Lebbin and others are now working on sprucing up the joint a little bit. In the works is a Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopter from the Vietnam era. Lebbin said, once restored, the chopper will be posted as an eye-catcher on the American Legion property.
"It will be on an elevated mount once it's determined what design that will be, to where people can't be getting in it and messing with it," he said. "The windows will be blacked out. From the exterior, it's the intent for it to look pretty much complete."
The restoration project is expected to cost approximately $7,000, and American Legion Post 320 is currently accepting donations for the restoration. Lebbin, a Vietnam veteran and current Ellinwood city council member, had been looking for a helicopter for the project before this one became available.
"I was really wanting a Huey, but that'd didn't work," he said. "As fate would have it, low and behold, there was this OH-58 Kiowa, which is a scout helicopter, was up in Dorrance."
The previous owner intended to install the chopper atop his liquor store in Russell, complete with a gearbox that allowed the main and rear rotors to move. With his move to California instead, Lebbin and company were able to swoop in for the purchase. Lebbin and John Roth trucked the chopper, which is currently being house in Lebbin's hangar, back to Ellinwood.
"We're just waiting for some nice weather," Lebbin said. "We've been gathering some major parts, and we're about done with that. As the weather gets better, we can do sanding and painting."
The group intends to make the Kiowa appear fully restored from the exterior, complete with replacement U.S. Army logos and other era-based insignia.
"It'll make an excellent display to tie into the American Legion Post in honor of veterans, as well as it'll be right along the highway as an attraction for people passing through," Lebbin said. "It'll be an addition for the community at large as well."
American Legion Post 320 is a 501(c)(19) non-profit Veterans' Organization, so a tax letter will be provided for anyone who donates. Make checks to the American Legion Helicopter Project. Donations can be mailed to Post 320 Adjutant Dale Kraus, 108 W 11th Street, Ellinwood, KS 67526. Donations can also be given to Lebbin, Post 320 Commander Lloyd Kurtz, or Frank Koelsch.