174th Fighter Wing Vintage Aircraft Get Ready for Display

  • Published
  • By Capt. Anthony Bucci
  • 174 PAO
Through the years many people have come and gone through the gates of Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, NY, and in the backdrop were the changing aircraft reflecting U.S. air power at that particular point in history. The 174th Fighter Wing has employed 10 different aircraft since its formation in 1947 (including the MQ-9 and RC-26 which it currently flies), and over the past three years the 174 FW Maintenance Group has taken the lead on refurbishing the unit's eight vintage aircraft back to their original appearance.

"With our recent shift in mission to the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, we finally had the opportunity to work on our long-delayed aircraft refurbishment project," said Maj. Timothy T. Martin, Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Commander. "This is something that the maintenance troops were happy to take part in because the vintage aircraft represent pieces of our history that they are helping to restore and something they can show their grandkids someday."

One of the biggest issues with this refurbishment project has been the lack of replacement parts for the aircraft. The airmen assigned to the sheet metal/fabrication shop had to fabricate many replacement panels from photographs of the aircraft, as precise technical data no longer exists. According to Maj. Martin, the sheet metal/fabrication shop did approximately 90 percent of the work, spending roughly three months per plane in the refurbishment process. However, the fabrication of replacement panels wasn't the only issue that required creativity on the part of the refurbishment team.

The fact that these aircraft would eventually find themselves permanently positioned outside in the harsh weather conditions of Central New York raised other concerns about the structural integrity of the aircraft. One critical issue was the paint that would be used to finish these aircraft--it had to be able to stand up to the elements.  Therefore, automotive paint was used to finish the aircraft. The tires for the F-86 Sabre were no longer being produced; however a tractor supply factory in the Midwest could make tires for the aircraft that closely resembled the original. The tires for all the aircraft would be "hard filled" just as they are for industrial tires to increase their shelf life, as opposed to being filled with nitrogen as they would have been if they were still in service.

At some point these vintage aircraft will be pre-positioned permanently at an air park here on the base where they will be on display for future generations to view. This air park project has been in the works for several years now and hopefully sometime soon the decision will be made on where to permanently position them. In the meantime, the 174 FW refurbishment team will continue to transform these vintage aircraft from aging relics to pristine looking aircraft just like they did when they rolled off the assembly line.

Currently three aircraft are finished and can be viewed on base in their "original" form: the F-86 Sabre, the F-94 Starfighter and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The A-37 Dragonfly is currently being worked on, with the A-10 Warthog and F-84 Thunderjet up next in the refurbishment team's schedule. The last two remaining aircraft to be procured are the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang, which will not be easy because few of them remain, but the 174 FW refurbishment team is determined to have all of the unit's aircraft on display sometime soon.

All of the aircraft to be displayed in the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base Air Park are on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force (formerly the United States Air Force Museum), which is the official museum of the United States Air Force and is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. The NMUSAF is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum.