More than 25,000 visitors flock to the Air Force Flight Test Museum each year to learn about the rich history of Edwards and the extraordinary aviation milestones reached in the skies above the Mojave Desert.
They learn about test pilot legends and catch a glimpse of engineering marvels, such as the SR-71 Blackbird and YF-22 Raptor.
The Air Force Flight Test Museum is a place where children and adults alike gather from all over the world to learn and be inspired by some of the U.S. Air Force’s most remarkable achievements and notable programs.
Wanting to give visitors the best experience possible, the museum recently began an Adopt-A-Plane program, to ensure the aircraft are looking their finest.
“When we have visitors, they expect our aircraft to be in order. They don’t expect to see flat tires. We are the Air Force, visitors expect to see these aircraft looking at their best and they deserve that. This is about pride in Edwards, the Air Force and in what we do. Visitors need to know we care about the history and the people who came before us,” said Tony Moore, Air Force Flight Test Museum specialist.
The United States Air Force Test Pilot School Class 12B was the first organization to participate in the program with the adoption of the SR-71 Blackbird.
“We were looking for a way to give back to the museum,” said Maj. Martin Van De Pol, USAF TPS Class 12B. “So, I talked with the museum’s director about helping with the planes outside that need cleaning and that eventually led to adopting the SR-71. Not only does this give us a chance to help out, but it also gives us a chance to get up close to the jet; to touch and feel it and see what it’s like.”
The Blackbird is one of 84 airframes the museum’s two full-time employees are responsible for. While a majority of the aircraft are stored in various locations around base, strict Air Force regulations mandate regular maintenance and cleaning on each airframe.
“There are more than 80 aircraft and with only two of us, we can’t do it all. They all have to be maintained and cleaned, so the Adopt-A-Plane program will benefit us greatly. It will allow us to be more successful in our day-to-day responsibilities and allows us to keep moving towards our goal of expanding outside the security gate,” said George Welsh, Air Force Flight Test Museum director.
Class 12B began participating in the program Nov. 17 when they gathered to clean the aircraft. Everything the class needed was provided by the museum, including telescoping RV brushes, hoses, ladders and aircraft ground equipment.
In addition to cleaning the SR-71, the class will be responsible for light maintenance such as applying additional paint, reapplying insignias, draining remaining fluids and fixing flat tires.
“In addition to cleaning the Blackbird, we will perform minor repairs like changing tires or keeping the birds out. This is an ongoing effort. There is so much history with this jet and on this base; it’s important to preserve it,” said Van De Pol.
The program will not only help the museum keep aircraft looking their best, but it will also cut costs by reducing the number of times aircraft need to be repainted. Each time an aircraft is repainted it costs the Flight Test Historical Foundation anywhere from $200 to more than $3,000 depending on the size of the aircraft and the type of paint.
The SR-71 adopted by Class 12B is painted with high-quality automotive paint, which although cost more money than alternative options, is much more durable and able to withstand the harsh desert environment.
“The climate is dry so we don’t have the corrosion issues other bases have, but it’s also very tough. There’s a lot of wind and there’s a lot of sand. Our airplanes are being sandblasted constantly. You put a new paint job on an airplane and as a result of the environment, in five years you need to repaint. That’s why it’s so important to maintain them on a regular basis,” said Welsh.
In addition to environmental factors, birds nesting and excess fluid leaks are top concerns for corrosion and requires regular care to preserve the aircraft. Routine cleaning and maintenance is the best way for the museum to reduce costs and keep the aircraft looking their best for the thousands of visitors that come through the museum each year.
Although Class 12B will perform light maintenance on the aircraft, Team Edwards personnel interested in participating in the program are not required to do so. Volunteers can participate as much or as little as they would like.
“Ideally I would like a crew of three to four people per airplane, although there is no set number. That would go a long way and really help preserve the collection. I’m not expecting only maintainers to come out and participate in the program. Anyone can participate,” said Welsh.
To find out more information about participating in the Air Force Flight Test Museum’s Adopt-A-Plane program, contact George Welsh at (661) 277-8050.