In the Air Force, aircraft boneyards are synonymous with places where decommissioned aircraft go to rest. At Edwards, the Air Force Flight Test Museum’s boneyard is becoming a place where aircraft wait to be restored and history retold thanks to a team of volunteers.
Just recently, one of the museum’s aircraft, a Piper PA-48 Enforcer, was restored and repainted with the help of volunteers from the AFFT Museum and the 412th Maintenance Squadron.
“The Piper PA-48 was part of a series of aircraft that were designed for counter-insurgency, known as COIN aircraft. The hope was to put them in production, but not necessarily for the U.S. military. These were aircraft that the U.S. government would eventually sell to other smaller foreign nations,” said George Welsh, AFFT Museum curator. “They were initially developed off the P-51 Mustang and the Enforcers were an end of a series of aircraft. The history behind these aircraft still isn’t completely clear and we understand that two exist, but both were tested here and at Eglin Air Force Base [Fla.]”
According to Welsh, the project arose after years of waiting for the right team of volunteers to restore and remove the aircraft from the museum’s boneyard on Forbes Ave. and Rosamond Blvd.
“The museum is always in need of help and we have a number of opportunities where we need aircraft painted,” said Welsh. “A lot of this had to do with the 412th MXS paint shop’s scheduling and when they had the time to take this project on.”
During the restoration process, the team said they encountered a variety of challenges before the aircraft could be prepared for display.
“Just moving the airplane proved to be a base effort. We had to get the 412th Security Forces Squadron involved and coordinate the move with them, the 416th Flight Test Squadron allowed us access through their area on to the flightline and Airfield Management allowed us to tow the aircraft,” Welsh said. “Everybody pitched in and made this happen. We get a tremendous amount of support at this base.
“The museum took a plane that was battered, and with the help of George and the restoration team, they were able to bring it out here and piece it together so our paint team could start from scratch,” said Randy Morehead, 412th MXS Surface Team supervisor. “Cleaning up years and years of dirt was a slow process, but once all the body work done, it was a matter of painting it. Finding the colors and paint scheme proved to be challenging because the folks at the National Museum said the aircraft never had an official paint scheme, so we had to research blogs and old photos to find a paint scheme for it since there were three colors all the way around. It’s a learning curve every time, because it’s not something we paint every day like our F-16s or T-38s.”
In addition to the painting process, Welsh said a lot of the work rested on the restoration team to prime the aircraft for the paint shop.
“A lot of credit has to go to Mike Glenn and his restoration crew. They spent several months prepping the aircraft before it came to the paint shop. We really appreciate all the collaboration,” said Welsh. “At times, it’s difficult for us with a staff of two to do all the research necessary and run the museum, and with 83 aircraft under our care, we get pretty busy so when Randy and his team jumped in to find certain elements or details that we missed, it just makes the airplane that much more unique. That attention to detail is awesome. We try to be very accurate and we have to pick a certain moment in time which we feel is significant because it’s connected to Edwards while it was here, so it gets painted exactly like the photographs we find in the archives.”
With the Enforcer now completely renovated and inside the museum’s storage hangar, Welsh noted that the final phase will be to transition the aircraft from the hangar to the museum for public display.
“I have no storage room to keep it in the hangar so we’re really pushing hard for a new hangar and working towards that. Since we have the support of the base, we are in the process now to eventually move it to our museum so the plane can be put on public display, but this will also help us to expand and eventually get to the point where we can build a new facility off base.”
On a final note, Welsh commended all the teams for bringing this piece of history back to what it once was.
“I not only see this as supporting the museum, but it’s all a part of preserving history and legacy,” said Welsh. “You can see the quality of the workmanship in each project despite the limited amount of time, and I can’t praise it enough. I love the way everyone took pride in accomplishing this task.”
“If anyone knows anything about Edwards, a lot of stuff is written in blood at this base. People need to know how we got where we are right now,” added Morehead. “I’ve been working here for 33 years and I’m still fascinated by it. It took about three weeks to finish the paint, but I was surprised at how many people took interest in this project. I was also proud of the hard work and dedication that my people did and in such a short time. When it’s at the museum, I think it will be received quite well.”
To find out more information about participating in the Air Force Flight Test Museum’s Adopt-A-Plane program or volunteering with the AFFT Museum, contact 661-277-8050.