Hill Aerospace Museum looks to expand community educational partnerships with a new aircraft restoration facility
By Todd Cromar, 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 26, 2021
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- A new aircraft restoration and maintenance facility has recently been completed and turned over to the Hill Aerospace Museum.
This newly constructed building came about through the Falcon Hill enhanced use lease, or EUL, program and replaced the museum's previous restoration facility, an old and weathered warehouse near the new Northrop Grumman facility located next to the base’s Roy Gate.
The EUL program allows the Air Force to lease land to a developer to create and lease commercial space and infrastructure. The new facility will be used to care for the museum’s collection of aircraft and other artifacts while offering unique, real-world airframe work opportunities for local high school and college students, as well as base volunteers.
Museum aircraft are acquired from multiple sources and often arrive needing a significant amount of work, including corrosion mitigation to preserve the exterior and interior restoration before they are displayed.
Each project is very individual in nature and is accomplished by enlisting a large amount of volunteer help from across Hill AFB and the outlying community.
Many volunteers with prior airframe technical knowledge and experience donate time and provide invaluable skills with part fabrication and reconstruction know how.
Brandon Hedges, Hill Aerospace Museum restoration chief, said part of the volunteer restoration manpower is provided by local students.
“One very exciting piece of our volunteer restoration program is the partner relationships we have with several local academic institutions, which allows students from the surrounding community to learn and work on real aircraft at our facility,” said Hedges.
An existing memorandum of understanding has been in place for six years between the museum and the Utah Military Academy, a local charter high school, which benefits both students and the museum.
It allows junior and senior students enrolled in the academy’s basic airframes structure course, the opportunity to work on aircraft restoration projects of all different vintage, types and models.
Students are currently working on a B-29 Superfortress nose art display consisting of 15 four-by-four aluminum panels, each requiring up to three thousand rivets that will simulate the airframes fuselage skin depicting a variety of World War II nose art.
Throughout instruction students learn material identification and properties, how to form metal, as well as the importance of tool safety and control, which is modeled off of Air Force regulations.
Tools and equipment consist of metal cutting and forming tools and some wood working tools, which are required for work on some older wood platform aircraft, like the B-17 Flying Fortress
“This program allows us to utilize students for restoration work on project aircraft, while providing them invaluable airframe experience as well as course credit hours,” said Hedges. “We are fortunate to have Darrell Gronau, aviation structures repair instructor and retired Air Force chief master sergeant, who volunteers through the museums education program and is teaching this course at our new facility.”
In addition, a relationship was recently established with the Davis Applied Technology College for student work on the museums current F-117 Nighthawk project.
As with many modern aircraft received by the museum, the F-117 arrived missing parts such as leading- trailing edges and a nose cone, which were removed for security reasons.
In these type of situations, the museum staff is left to fabricate replacement parts in order to replicate the missing pieces.
“Dimensions for replica parts were sent by the National Museum and Tonopah, but while researching restoration we decided to replace parts with fabricated composites, which will be similar to the original layout and design,” said Hedges. “For example, metal leading edges were recommended, but the original airframe edges were made of composite, so we ended up partnering with the DATC to create those for us, with college-level students preforming the work.”
With volunteer support and community academic partnerships, the Hill Aerospace museum is able to fabricate almost all restoration parts in house, only outsourcing on rare occasion for very large projects such as an entire airframe.
Additionally, the museum offers paid annual college internships, six of which are hired out by the restoration department.
Interns receive meaningful experience that can later be applied in the real world, with a monetary amount paid to the students tuition school account by the museum’s Heritage Foundation for 200 hours of restoration labor.
Aaron Clark, Hill Aerospace Museum director, said that while he is excited how this new resource will improve collection care, he is most enthusiastic about exploring and hopefully developing additional school partnership opportunities in the future.
“With this new facility and the amenities it offers, we now hope to partner with more neighboring high schools and colleges to develop an in-house airframe maintenance program to educate and inspire the Airmen of tomorrow – civilian and military – through the unique hands-on experiences they can get at this museum.”