A Skytrain and a Flying Boxcar are the lucky recipients of a much-needed makeover here at Fort Campbell.
The aircraft, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, are on static display on the corner of Wickham and Entrance roads. Sun damage, lack of use and weather have all left signs of aging on the aircraft, but thanks to some friendly competition between the Army and the Air Force, these beautiful ladies will soon find their fine lines and wrinkles significantly erased.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Sonny Bumgardner, a logistics specialist for the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, said the overhaul was never intended as a challenge, but likes the results of it.
Corporal Roy Gorris, a structural aircraft mechanic for Company B, 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, said the makeovers became a friendly competition between the Airmen and Soldiers at Fort Campbell, and the Soldiers are winning by a nose.
Private Brandon Seavey just arrived at Fort Campbell, his first duty station, and in his first month volunteered to assist with the transformation. The integrated family of test equipment operator carefully placed tape over windows in preparation for the aircraft’s foundation of paint.
He said he didn’t know he was in a faceoff with the Air Force until he was already working on it, and that makes him want to do an even better job.
“They got the easy tasking,” Gorris teased as he pointed at the C-47 Skytrain the Airmen have been working on. “All they have to do is repaint what is already on it. We have to start from scratch.”
Naturally, Bumgardner disagreed.
The effort to spruce up the C-47 Skytrain was the brainchild of Air Force Master Sgt. Scott McCoy, an aircraft mechanic for the squadron, Bumgardner said.
“I don’t think at any point in time it was a competition,” he said, but he didn’t hold back from talking smack, either. “Ours is just going to look better.”
“We’re going for perfection here,” Bumgardner said. “You can’t just throw some paint on there and call it good.”
With the help of Fort Campbell Fire Department, approximately 50 Airmen of the 19th ASOS volunteered their time to washing the Skytrain, using scrub brushes and 300 gallons of cleaner. Bumgardner said the next step of the aircraft’s facelift is to sand down the paint she currently wears.
Gorris said the Soldiers reskinned the horizontal and vertical stabilators for the Flying Boxcar prior to the brigade’s deployment in 2011.
“We are painting it [an aluminum color], like it came out of the factory, and it’s going to get a great deal of detailing,” Gorris said.
Factory-fresh is the goal, but accuracy is the key.
“Every aircraft we have we want to make historically accurate,” said Dan Peterson, the director of the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell.
Both aircraft will be restored to the style of the 1950s, Gorris said.
“We’re putting it back like it was when it originally landed here at Campbell in the ‘50s,” Gorris said. “That’s why this aircraft is here – it used to bring in the troops for jumps.”
Peterson said both airplanes are significant to the 101st Airborne Division history.
“[The C-119] had been taken for a smoke jumper plane for firefighting – that was its last life before it was turned into the [General Services Administration], and we were able to … rescue it.”
There is one bit of irony in this: the Air Force chose the aircraft used by the Army and the Army is restoring the World War II aircraft used by the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force.
All Army museums must go through a Certification Inspection every five years. This is the magic year for the Pratt museum. The efforts being put forth by the Soldiers of 563rd ASB and 19th ASOS will certainly help during the inspection, Peterson said.
Peterson said it is fortunate these side-by-side aircraft are being repainted right now because it will make Fort Campbell look good during the inspection.
“They gave us the funding to get the paint, so we’re going to give them a quality piece of work in return,” Gorris said.
When this makeover is complete, Gorris said he will be dedicating his personal time to restoring more aircraft for the museum.
“It would be a great honor and my legacy to preserve Aviation history by painting the aircraft at the Heritage Park and the one at Campbell Army Air Field,” he said.
If every company on post would volunteer to restore one aircraft, Fort Campbell would have the most amazing display, Gorris said.
And there is no lack of aircraft at Fort Campbell.
If he could find more volunteers, Peterson said he could always find more aircraft for makeovers.