TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Solano Community College students and Travis museum volunteers are working together to give vintage military aircraft a new lease on life.
The students are getting experience repairing and restoring aircraft. The museum gets a helping hand in maintaining its collection – one that extends back to World War II-era airplanes, starting with the museum’s Vietnam-era O-2A Skymaster observation aircraft.
The project started as a way to give Solano College’s aeronautical school students an opportunity to earn extra credit by helping Jimmy Doolittle Air & Space Museum Volunteer Coordinator Robert Zirzow restore some of the air museum’s vintage aircraft.
“The goal is to give SCC students hands-on experience in restoring and preserving military aircraft to museum standards,” Zirzow said.
Work started in June 2012, with students coming to the museum mainly on Saturdays to restore the museum’s O-2A, Zirzow said.
The O-2A had been on display outside the museum for at least the past 20 years and needed restoration work after being exposed to the weather for so long. Zirzow estimates it will take five years to completely restore the airplane.
A military version of the Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster was modified by the Air Force in 1966 to be used during the Vietnam War to direct air and artillery strikes on Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army targets. Some carried rockets on wing pylons and flares to mark their targets. The O-2s continued to be used by the Air Force until the late 1980s.
The O-2A now sits in a work area at the back of the museum, partially dismantled with its wings, boom tail and windshield removed. Students and volunteers are stripping down the aircraft and cleaning parts in preparation for bead-blasting the old paint off the exterior.
Kevin Spoelstra, instructor for Solano College’s aeronautical school, said when he was approached last year by Zirzow, he immediately thought it was a great way to give his students real-life experience with maintaining and overhauling aircraft structures and systems.
“Bob needed some help with manpower and I thought it was a great idea,” Spoelstra said.
The work fits in well with the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirement for students in the Solano College program because the O-2A is a version of the civilian Cessna, he said. The students may work on Cessnas when they get jobs in the aviation industry, he said.
So far, about 15 students have volunteered at the museum at different times. Spoelstra said he hopes that once the restoration work on the O-2A is finished, his students will get the opportunity to work on other museum aircraft.
“It’s great working to restore the history, maintaining and fixing up aircraft that will be on display,” Spoelstra said.
One of those working on the aircraft is Solano College student Ahmad Grant of Vacaville, who signed on after listening to Zirzow talk to the students last year. He now spends about three hours a week on the O-2A and other museum projects.
“It was a no-brainer to volunteer my time,” said Grant, who had maintained fighter aircraft when he served in the military and is now in the Solano College aeronautics school working to get an airframe and power plant license. “This is also my way of giving back to the Air Force.”
This could be the beginning of a close relationship between the Jimmy Doolittle Air & Space Museum and Solano College’s aeronautics school. The college is looking into working with the museum if the museum is successful in building a new home on land next to the Nut Tree Airport, where the aeronautics school has facilities. Talks of such as partnership are taking place, Spoelstra said.
“It would be great, since the museum is a learning center as well,” Spoelstra said.
Zirzow is still looking for more volunteers to help restore aircraft and do other projects at the museum. Those interested need to be at least 18. To volunteer or get more information, call 424-4883 or go to http://jimmydoolittlemuseum.org.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.