Tech school students get hands-on experience at Museum of Aviation

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78 ABW/PA
Most of the planes that come to the Museum of Aviation are a far sight from being ready for display.

Upon arrival, the planes often look more like they are ready to be taken to an aircraft junkyard than to serve as representatives of aviation history. They go through a painstaking process that usually takes a year or two before the planes are moved from the restoration hangar to the museum display area.

Much of that work is done by students who hope someday to be working on planes that still fly. Since about the time that the museum opened in 1984, it has had a partnership with Middle Georgia Technical College in which students taking aircraft structural technology get hands-on experience. The museum also has a partnership with South Georgia Technical College in Americus.

The arrangement affords students the opportunity to get a range of experience that they might not be allowed when working on functional aircraft.

In return, the museum gets a lot of help restoring aircraft.

"They are doing repairs that we would have to do, which gives our restoration guys the opportunity to work on other projects," said Dennis Oliver, the museum's chief of restoration and maintenance.

Although Middle Georgia Tech has aircraft technology classes at the school, it also holds a class at the museum's restoration hangar. The students typically study in a classroom in the hangar for part of the day and then do restoration work.

The students are currently working on two major projects, restoration of an OV-10 Bronco turboprop plane and an F-102 Delta Dagger jet interceptor. They also do maintenance work on planes already on display.

Oliver said there's never a shortage of work for the students.

Kristen Barwick joined the class with her fiancé with hopes of getting a job on the Robins flightline. She said working on planes at the museum makes the learning process more interesting.

"It's nice to see what you've done," she said. "I think the hands-on training does a lot because if you were just doing book work you would not be able to apply what you've learned."

Bruce Sacks, who teaches the class at the restoration hangar, said having the students work at the museum is an important part of their training.

"It's a big help because it's hands on," he said. "They get to work on a real airplane structure."

They also get vast experience in dealing with, corrosion, one of the Air Force's biggest issues in keeping its aging fleet airborne. Although the planes they work on will never fly again, the students do the work the same as they would on a functional aircraft.

Oliver said they could do some shortcuts that would probably make the planes look cosmetically fine for display, but they aim for a higher standard.

"We want to make it just like it was," he said. "We don't want to just put a patch on there. We want to display stuff that is Smithsonian quality."

After they complete the structural repairs, the restored planes are towed up the road to the Robins flight line to be painted and then the planes are towed back for display.

In addition to the students who study at the museum, other students at Middle Georgia Tech and at South Georgia Tech work on restoring engines and aircraft parts for the museum at the schools. Middle Georgia Tech students even restored a World War II-era nuclear bomb at the school.

The bomb, its nuclear material long-since removed, of course, is now on display at the museum's World War II hangar.