Airmen preserve heritage, restore aircraft

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shawn J. Jones
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Sparks were flying inside one airplane hangar near the flightline here March 4, as active-duty and Reserve maintenance technicians worked to restore an air mobility artifact.

For decades, a C-118 Liftmaster stood on display near the passenger terminal here, but in October 2009, it was towed to a maintenance hangar in order to restore the deteriorating aircraft to its former glory.

Since the restoration project began, Airmen and volunteers have contributed more than 3,000 hours of work time, including nearly 750 hours of off-duty personal time, to get the Liftmaster back to its position as the sentry of the passenger terminal.

Liftmaster airplanes were flown by Airmen from the 1611th Air Transport Wing here during the 1950s and '60s. As the first cargo plane assigned to McGuire Air Force Base, the long-range, piston-powered transport aircraft helped define the base's role as a mobility gateway.

Working on older aircraft can be challenging. Maintenance technicians who typically work on the base's KC-10 Extenders or C-17 Globemaster IIIs, some of which are just a few years old, found themselves plying their trade on an aircraft that had its heyday in the middle of the 20th century.

Technical sergeants Joseph Martinek and Jarod Jones, of the 305th Maintenance Squadron, were the primary source of the flying sparks as they spent the morning grinding and cutting out remnants of the mount that held the aircraft to its spot on the static display.

Sergeant Martinek said he appreciated being able to work on an aircraft that was flown and maintained by Airmen of previous generations, but the restoration project was no easy task.

"It's not something you get to do all the time," he said. "Most people in the Air Force don't realize the amount of work that goes into these old birds."

While Liftmasters were an important part of McGuire AFB's history, one Airman appreciated the plane's individual history.

After serving a tour in Germany, Army Sgt. Elvis Presley returned to the U.S. aboard the aircraft, amid much fanfare, 51 years ago.

"I'm from Memphis," said Airman 1st Class Marco Andrade, a metals technology technician with the 305th MXS. "Everything out there is about Elvis. My grandmother loves Elvis."

Not only did the restoration project provide a personal connection to Airman Andrade's hometown, but he said it also provided a learning experience. Modern aircraft structures are typically built from carbon fibers, while the structures of the C-118 are made from simple fiberglass and aluminum.

"I can't thank enough all those who have busted knuckles on this project, and put in much of their own valuable time and sweat equity to get us to this point," said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Hofrichter, a member of the 514th Maintenance Group and the project manager for the restoration. "What the sheet metal guys have done is nothing short of miraculous."

Sergeant Hofrichter said static displays of historical aircraft help future generations of Airmen to become more familiar with the legacy upon which their time in uniform is built.

"From the outset, this project seemed a pretty daunting endeavor, but now that the painting has started, I'm beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "We're optimistic on a late-summer return-to-display date."