Salute Our Heroes: Retired Air Force engineer has story to tell at Combat Air Museum

Ralph Knehans found and delivered several planes to the museum
13 NEWS at 10 p.m.
Updated: Jul. 18, 2022 at 10:00 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As a retired Air Force engineer, Ralph Knehans loves planes.

“I’m an aviation person, I love aviation,” said Ralph.

Ralph served as an engineer in the Air Force with a career spanning from Korea to Vietnam. He collected story after story from his 30 years of service, including this close call while travelling oversees.

“Oh my I’ve never seen such a storm in my life,” Said Ralph. “That storm was huge and it come up and it picked our ship up like this and set like that. You can hear all this stuff come rumbling down, boxes and everything, things like that. Pretty soon it dropped down again, luckily, and then we went on to there.”

Ralph now spends his time giving tours at the Combat Air Museum sharing stories about the planes he personally delivered after finding most of them abandoned and in need of a new home. The Grumman F9F Panther that can be seen in the main hanger is just one plane he brought back to be fixed up and put on display.

“So when I talked with them I told them what we were doing and I said we’d sure like to have this aircraft, now is there any chance we can do that? They say ‘I want the aircraft but it’s not doing us any good here. So, if you guys want it then come in and get it.’ So we did,” said Ralph.

Ralph’s memory isn’t what it used to be but he will never forget what he loves. “I love being around them and this way I still do,” said Ralph.

Gene Howerter is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the museum and says their job is to keep history alive.

“Keep history alive, that’s our slogan,” said Gene. “We want to keep history alive at the Combat Air Museum or we say history comes alive at the Combat Air Museum.”

Nothing is considered off-limits either.

“You don’t have ropes around the airplanes, you don’t say don’t touch and when the kids come in they are just overjoyed,” said Gene. “Especially little kids and middle sized kids about airplanes. But then you’ve got the other kids, those that 75, 80, 90 and 100 years old who flew these planes during the war in one thing or another.”

The Combat Air Museum is always encouraging younger folks to volunteer, but Ralph will always be held in a special place with a unique story to tell.

The Combat Air Museum is open from 9am - 4:30pm Monday through Saturday and from 12pm - 4:30pm on Sundays. Ralph gives tours on Saturdays and visitors generally like hearing him talk about working on planes as an engineer as well as how he got some planes to the museum. Be prepared for a long tour though because Ralph is known to take 1 to as many as 4 hours going through the museum.

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