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Preserving History: Airmen restore aircraft to its former glory

Airmen tow a C-118 Liftmaster from its position as a static display near the passenger terminal at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 23, 2009. The aircraft is being resurfaced with environmentally friendly paints and will be put back on display by the end of summer. (Tech. Sgt. Shawn J. Jones)

Airmen tow a C-118 Liftmaster from its position as a static display near the passenger terminal at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Oct. 23, 2009. The aircraft is being resurfaced with environmentally friendly paints and will be put back on display by the end of summer. (Tech. Sgt. Shawn J. Jones)

Airman 1st Class Marco Andrade, 305th Maintenance Squadron, removes corrosion from a C-118 Liftmaster in an aircraft maintenance hangar. The C-118 is being restored by active-duty Airmen, Reserve Airmen and civilians in an effort to return the aircraft to its position as a static display. (Tech. Sgt. Shawn J. Jones)

Airman 1st Class Marco Andrade, 305th Maintenance Squadron, removes corrosion from a C-118 Liftmaster in an aircraft maintenance hangar. The C-118 is being restored by active-duty Airmen, Reserve Airmen and civilians in an effort to return the aircraft to its position as a static display. (Tech. Sgt. Shawn J. Jones)

Citizen Airman/June 2011 -- Sparks fly inside an aircraft hangar near the flight line as regular Air Force and Air Force Reserve maintenance technicians work to restore an air mobility artifact.

For decades, a C-118 Liftmaster stood on display near the passenger terminal at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. In October 2009, the aircraft was towed to a maintenance hangar so Airmen could restore the deteriorating aircraft to its former glory.

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

Members of the 1611th Air Transport Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst flew Liftmaster airplanes during the 1950s and '60s. As the first cargo plane assigned to what was then known as 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.

On this day in early March, Tech. Sgts. Joseph Martinek and Jarod Jones of the regular Air Force 305th Maintenance Squadron were the primary sources 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 are an important part of McGuire AFB's history, one Airman appreciated this particular plane's individual history. After serving a tour in Germany, Army Sgt. Elvis Presley returned to the United States aboard the aircraft, amid much fanfare, 51 years ago.

"I'm from Memphis," said Airman First Class Marco Andrade, a metals technology technician with the 305th MXS. "Everything 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 fiber, 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 Reserve's 514th Maintenance Group and 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 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 about a late-summer return-to-display date."

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