Courtesy of Hickory Aviation Museum
The Hickory Aviation Museum sits outdoors, so its members have long dealt with Mother Nature's full repertoire: rain, snow, wind, and tornados. Even some bees have occupied its aircraft.
But what the North Carolina museum found inside a Cold War-era T-33 Shooting Star late last month was a bit of a shock.
"Being outside, we get everything, but this is the first time we've had a cat give birth in an airplane," Buford Barnett, the museum's general manager, tells Daily Paws.
A feral cat, who the museum named Phantom (after the aircraft), was living in the decommissioned two-seat Shooting Star with her five newborn kittens. Thankfully, she led them out of the plane, and the little ones are preparing for lives in loving homes.
The museum discovered its new residents a couple weeks ago. One of its members, a pilot and volunteer named William Falls, kept hearing a "strange rustling noise" coming from the Shooting Star, Barnett says. He took a photo inside the jet's air intake and could make out Phantom and two of her kittens.
Days later, Falls clearly saw one of the kittens sitting in the cockpit, seemingly looking for permission to taxi to a runway. The photo is priceless.
In the small, inclosed plane, the kittens were impossible to catch. Thankfully, Phantom soon led them out. The Humane Society of Catawba County arrived at the museum—at Hickory Regional Airport—to trap them.
Barnett was glad to see the traps. He was worried the little ones might become snacks for coyotes or some other animal. (Remember, cats who live outside have a much shorter lifespan than ones who live indoors.)
The humane society trapped the five kittens in a couple days. Meanwhile, the wiley Phantom lived up to her name, outsmarting the traps for several more days before she was caught.
"She was very hard to catch," Barnett says. "She would go into the trap and eat the gourmet tuna or chicken we had and not set it off."
Because they were rescued so early in their lives, the kittens will likely be able to join forever homes in a month or so. Last week, the humane society put out a call for foster homes so the little ones could get a taste of domestic life before adoption.
When they're ready, cat lovers in central North Carolina will have the chance to welcome some truly unique new family members into their homes.
"I'm sure they're probably the only T-33 kittens in the world," Barnett says.