YPSILANTI, MICH. – Aircraft restorer Lee R. Koepke, 87, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, passed away July 3, 2013. After serving in the Army Air Force during World War II, Koepke pursued a career as a mechanic and authorized inspector.
Koepke was known for taking a derelict 1937 Lockheed 10 Electra destined to be used for firefighting practice at Willow Run Airport, and restoring it for the 1967 “Earhart Commemorative Flight.” He went on the flight with pilot Ann Pellegreno, copilot William Payne, and navigator Bill Polhemus. The group successfully located Howland Island on the date, 30 years after Amelia Earhart was to have landed there.
Koepke’s Lockheed is on display in the National Transportation Museum of Canada, located in Kingsville, Ontario, representing Trans Canada Airlines’ first purchase of a modern airliner in October 1937.
Koepke will be remembered by many mechanics who attended the Detroit Institute of Aeronautics that he founded in 1968 and operated until it was purchased by the Michigan Institute of Technology in 1990. He retired as an aircraft mechanic at Republic Air Lines in 1980.