The 21 naval aircraft that regularly draw the attention of passersby on Route 235 are one of the most popular exhibits at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum; and maintaining them takes a team effort.
The purpose of the museum, located outside Gate 1 of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, is to showcase Pax River’s mission by preserving the heritage and interpreting the history of research, development, testing and evaluation in naval aviation. The aircraft on display are either actual test aircraft or representative of types that were tested at Pax River throughout its 70 year history.
“We started out with one aircraft — the NF-6A (F4D) Skyray,” said Harry Errington, a retired Mustang naval aircraft maintenance officer and longtime museum volunteer. “It came to the museum from the [U.S. Naval] Test Pilot School and was on display when the museum first opened its gates to the public in July 1978.”
Errington explained that the museum’s flightline aircraft, along with the 15 other static displays located across Pax River, are aircraft that have been stricken from operational inventory for various reasons. The maintenance planning of these aircraft is overseen by Naval Test Wing Atlantic (NTWL).
“Over the years, every command on base has volunteered to help maintain the aircraft,” Errington said. “These aircraft represent naval aviation to the public and we can’t let them deteriorate.”
Once a display aircraft is identified for restoration, Chief Aviation Machinists Mate Charles Damian, the naval air museum liaison at NTWL, will work closely with museum representatives.
“Depending on what type of aircraft needs to be painted determines where it will go to be painted,” Damian said. “My job then is to coordinate the move with [a squadron’s] maintenance leaders to find out when they are available to move the aircraft and determine the move crew.”
It takes at least a six-member team, with a senior director out front, to safely move the selected aircraft from the museum to its make-over destination.
“The team moving the aircraft is normally from the squadron that will do the work,” Errington said. “The director controls everything. There is also a tractor driver, a tail walker behind the aircraft and two wheel walkers carrying chocks to toss under the wheels to stop the aircraft, if necessary; because no one is in the cockpit. Also, there’s one extra person to cover emergencies.”
Besides arranging the aircraft move, Damian must also coordinate with various other Pax River departments to ensure everything goes smoothly and safely during the journey.
The security department provides a police escort during the move, directs traffic and closes roads so the tow tractor pulling the aircraft out of the museum can travel down the street unobstructed. Depending on the size of the aircraft, Public Works may need to raise telephone or electrical wires along the way for the aircraft to pass beneath. Air Traffic Control must be notified if the aircraft move involves passing through the taxiways.
“We’ve never had anyone injured since we began moving aircraft,” Errington said. “Believe me, when a Navy chief is coordinating things, it’s accomplished just as planned.”
Aircraft and Corrosion Branch Chief Michael J. Ransom oversees the maintenance volunteer work at VX-1; and Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Clinton Latham recently volunteered hours during refurbishment of an S-3B Viking, completed in September.
“They’ll bring a plane over about once or twice per year,” Ransom said. “They’ll contact the squadron to see if we’re willing and able to do it. We always say yes, but depending on what else we have going on, we can’t always jump on it right away.”
The aircraft is stored in a hangar and can take anywhere from one to six months for the volunteers to finish the detailed work.
“We remove almost all the paint, look for corrosion, repair small minor defects and repaint it staying true to the original paint scheme,” Latham explained. “That involves treating metals, laying primer and up to two topcoats of paint. It can take a crew of two or three personnel from 30 to 60 hours each.”
Latham said knowing their command has always done the volunteer maintenance through the years, the Sailors of VX-1 continue to help out the museum.
“[The aircraft are] an educational tool that helps the community understand where the military has come from in the past,” he said. “It’s our way of giving back to the museum and the base.”