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Not far south of Daytona Beach, on Florida's eastern coast, is New Smyrna Beach, the home of American Aero Services, a facility that restores and maintains World War 2 and other vintage aircraft. These aircraft, or the military ones at least, are popularly known as 'Warbirds' (see Wikipedia article).
One November day in 1997 a handsome tabby cat, little more than a kitten really, appeared in the hangar of American Aero, shortly after a Boeing B-17 bomber had been brought in for its annual inspection and servicing. He proceeded to check out all the humans and all the aircraft; however, it seemed the B-17 was his particular favourite, and it's possible that he had stowed away in it, as he seemed very familiar with every corner. Wherever he had come from, he apparently decided the hangar was to his liking and it became his new home, while he became known at first simply as The Hangar Cat.
Very soon the cat made it his business to check each new aircraft as it came in, aided by his amazing balancing and climbing abilities. Often a mechanic would shine a light into an inspection hatch, only to find a pair of eyes watching him from within; or they would reach into an inaccessible corner and a furry paw would brush against their hand, or sometimes grab it. It could be a bit unnerving at first!
One day The Hangar Cat came in crying loudly, with a badly mangled tail; possibly he'd come too close to a moving fan belt and had got caught up in it. Straight to the vet's he went, to emerge a few days later minus most of his tail. He was promptly rechristened 'Bob' (presumably as in 'bobtail'), which was at least a more manageable name. But it was apparent that he preferred to oversee work on the Warbirds rather than civilian planes and so Warbird Bob he became.
Bob had a further disaster later, owing to a family of squirrels that lived across the street from the hangar. Bob was trained to remain in the hangar and not to venture into the road but the squirrels would taunt him by running along the edge of the street, chattering and taunting him before running to a tree on the other side to see whether he would chase them. One day the temptation must have become too much, so he followed them and was hit by a car.
However, as time went by a curious thing happened: Bob started to be over-possessive about his Warbirds. He took particular exception to one mechanic and wouldn't let him approach the planes; the man was chased round the hangar and up a ladder, with Bob growling and hissing at its foot. Although an amusing situation, it was felt there was a chance he could hurt someone, perhaps a visitor, who got too close to 'his' aircraft, and that wouldn't do at all.
So Warbird Bob took his retirement and went to live with one of the American Aero mechanics at his home.
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He now (2013) has four younger cats that he seems to have taken on as protégés, as he is definitely 'the boss'! He's become very friendly, and sleeps on his humans' bed at night; it's thought that his earlier aggressive behaviour was probably a result of all the noise and commotion around the hangar causing stress, and making him feel he had to protect 'his' aircraft.
Bob has a slight limp, from his earlier accident with the car, and he is diabetic, but that's kept under control with daily injections. He's otherwise in good health and enjoying life; he's said to spend a lot of time 'lounging by the pool', where he has his own lounge chair. He will be 17 in September 2013: and we're told a book about him is in preparation!
More pictures of Bob
Warbird Bob was always on hand during his time at American Aero, from sunrise to sunset . . .
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The original information for this article was taken largely from a website devoted to Warbird Bob where there was a wonderful array of photos of him going about his business in the hangar; we have reproduced just a few here. While that site unfortunately appears (in 2013) to be no longer 'live', it is available at the Internet Archive (NB: the IA copy of the site may not be complete with all pages/images). Many thanks are due also to Kent Jeffrey for supplying additional information and for bringing Bob's story to our attention in the first place.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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Page created March 2008, with later revisions and additions