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Restoring Nieuport 28 Replica
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Kraener, 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft section chief, and Master Sgt. Aaron Cowan, 94th AMU production superintendent, rebuild the Nieuport 28 replica at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Jan. 17, 2012. The restoration project at Langley AFB involves select Airmen using skills rarely employed in today’s Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kayla Newman/Released)
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Maintainers, volunteers spearhead Nieuport 28 restoration

Posted 2/2/2012   Updated 2/6/2012 Email story   Print story


by Vic Johnston
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

2/2/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- May 24, 2011 is a date Chief Master Sgt. David Brown will not soon forget. A potentially violent storm was headed directly for Langley Air Force Base, Va. The 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent and fellow maintenance technicians were scrambling to hangar and secure the 1st Fighter Wing's F-22 Raptor fleet. The unit's iconic symbol, a Nieuport 28 World War I biplane replica, was anchored at five spots to the concrete pad just outside the chief's office.

At 6 p.m., just before the technicians could get to the biplane, a microburst swept in, snapping the rear chain, bolts and cable, which sent the airplane that was never supposed to fly 100 feet into a parked flat-bed truck. A twisted pile of metal and wood, smashed wings and propeller were what remained.

Some SPADS, a nickname for members in the unit, were sure the storm had damaged the airplane beyond repair. E-mails from present and former SPADS flew through the ether, spreading the sorry news about the Nieuport's demise. A proposal to buy a new SPAD XIII or another Nieuport replica were considered, but the price was prohibitive; it could be as much as $15,000 -- unassembled.

Brown and his fellow SPADS considered the historic significance of this particular model though.

"It is too important to the unit," said Brown, because it had been their symbolic material tie to the 94th's storied past, where mentions of Douglas Campbell, Raoul Lufbery and Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker reached almost legendary proportions.

Way ahead

Word of the ruinous tumble the biplane suffered reached members of the 1st Fighter Association, who posted before and after pictures in their August on-line newsletter.

Ken Kellett, a long-time aircraft replica builder and restorer built the aircraft in 1983 and it was dedicated at Langley in 1984. His reaction when he saw the pictures were "Ouch! I think they can fix this.

"What's amazing is that it's 28 years old and has held up as well as it has. It looks like it can be made whole again," said Kellett.

Staff Sgts. Javaris Allen and Zach Kee, both dedicated crew chiefs in the 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, took the lead. It would be the third time the aircraft had undergone repairs, but this would be the first time 94th AMU mechanics would do the work.

Allen set up a woodworking workshop in a storage room off of the main 94th AMU Hangar. Although cramped, he and other volunteers set about reverse engineering the smashed replica. Taking apart the wings, they spied dry rot and cracks. Tracing the old parts, they made new ones. Now a table saw, jig saw and sandpaper would become their new tools of the trade.

"I had just done furniture repair up until this point, so this was different," Allen said.

Ribs, wing struts, spars and each old part of the airplane had to be removed, traced and re-made. The 1st Maintenance Squadron helped out as well, using the slowly emerging rebuilt aircraft as a training aid, building a new rudder and tail feather assembly.

An Airframe and Powerplant Certification is required to perform maintenance and repairs on small aircraft, as well as the largest jet airplanes. A portion of the required A&P curriculum an aircraft maintenance professional needs to get certified includes working with wood, metal, fabric and composites. Many aircraft maintenance professionals strive to attain the certification.

"This is a great experience, a good change of pace, working with these tools and fiberglass," said Master Sgt. Richard Soule, 372nd Field Training Detachment instructor, also emphasizing the bonus benefits of getting the A&P certification.

As of press time, the aircraft has received its silver coating on the fuselage, to protect the coverings from the destructive effects of ultraviolet light. The detailed five-color paint scheme will culminate the restoration process.

A donation of valuable skills and material

Jon Goldenbaum was here during the 1984 dedication of the Nieuport. The retired Air Force colonel was the 27th FS assistant operations officer, then the 94th FS operations officer, and subsequently the commander of the 71st FS. Although his military background is in F-15 Eagles, he was interested in the project.

"My background and passion was in restoring and flying antique aircraft," he said. While stationed here, he had a fabric-covered Taylorcraft BC-12D that he flew as a hobby.

Now he is the president of Consolidated Aircraft Coatings in Riverside, Calif. Last summer he wrote an e-mail to Brown stating, "I'll donate all the fabric, coatings and custom-tinted, mil-spec paint necessary to make it look like new. I'll be glad to teach whoever is available how to apply the fabric, coatings and paint."

According to the retired Eagle driver, you can't learn these skills at an Air Force tech school. A stickler for authenticity, he wants the rebuild to look just right. "The paint we use exactly duplicates the luster of the nitrate dope used in World War I."

"Goldy," Brown, Allen and a team of 11 volunteer restorers started the next phase of the Nieuport's rebirth in earnest on Jan. 16, the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Their actions cementing the notion the day is "A day on, not a day off." Even Tech. Sgt. Nate Kramer's wife Bobbi Jo pitched in, doing some fine sanding.

Legacy, history, heritage

James Hardenbrook, former 27th FS commander and presently the 1st Fighter Association president, was glad veterans of the wing could be a part of the Nieuport's restoration process.

"The association charter is based upon making significant contributions to the history and heritage of the 1st Fighter Wing," said Hardenbrook. "This program fits that charter like a glove. Many of our members, especially former WWII 94th members, were quick to take out their checkbooks to ensure that restoration got started as quickly as possible."

Both present and past 1st FW members were especially pleased Goldenbaum provided his professional expertise, and all the material to recover, paint and finish the restoration to better-than-new condition.

A key expert who helped was a young man Goldenbaum hired out of the gang-ridden barrio that surrounds his business. He placed him along with others from similar backgrounds in a training program he runs within his business.

Hualdo Mendoza is now an aircraft restoration expert, comfortable in the business environment, articulate, and a contributing citizen in the local community.

"This restoration program is a success in many ways," according to Hardenbrook. The aircraft will soon be restored to better than new condition, and the esprit de corps of the 94th FS is once again confirmed. The contributions of the 1st Fighter Association are recognized and this effort highlights the contributions of Goldenbaum, not only to this program, but to his local community.

"I look forward to the roll out celebration and placement of the aircraft back where it belongs," said Goldenbaum.

The restored Nieuport will be revealed at the 94th FS change of command ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 9, at the SPAD hangar at 11:30 a.m. Lt. Col. Jason Hinds will assume command from Lt. Col. David Abba.

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