Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Maintenance group returns T-33 Shooting Star to static 'flight' status

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

2/15/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Every day the sun rises over JBER. The timing of when it rises, whether it gets filtered through clouds, how long it lasts, and when it goes down again are all subject to time of the year and weather conditions in Alaska. But when it does light up the sky, over time it affects what it touches. For humans, it provides vitamin D. For plants, it provides a source of food.

For aircraft, such as the planes on display in Heritage Park, it slowly causes paint to fade, while rain and other factors play at corrosion and general wear on the static metal birds.

Aircraft maintainers from the 3rd Maintenance Squadron work hard maintaining the historical displays.

"The Airmen are doing a superb job on this jet," said Marc Horn, 3rd Maintenance Squadron sheet metal painter and worker. "It's just a testament to the quality of work that they do. We're really proud of it."

The maintenance crews do the refurbishing jobs when they have down time, so the projects don't impact the mission.

The Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star is the first of the historic symbols to get refurbished since it arrived at the park in June of 1999.

"We want to keep them for a long time and we don't want to wait until the last minute when there're a lot of problems, so we're bringing them in one at a time right now," he said. "We're doing what they need, so they are well preserved."

The aircraft were added to the park at different times, so the condition of each will vary, he said.

Inspectors look over the planes annually searching for corrosion or paint fading.
"We make any other repairs with holes or anything like that, that we may find, and get it structurally sound," he said. "Then we actually sand it right down to the metal and repaint the entire aircraft."

The sanding takes the old paint completely off, as well as the local markings, symbols and stencils. The aircraft is then wiped clean before a primer is applied.

The colors, symbols and stencils are all reapplied in coats. Finally, a clear coat is used as additional protection.

"It'll stay looking real nice for a long time," he said.

The Airmen working to preserve the T-33 said they understood the significance behind their efforts.

"To me, it means quite a lot because these are part of our past," said Airman 1st Class Justin Howard, 3rd Maintenance Squadron structural aircraft journeyman.

"It kind of makes it a little more special to you because we've flown these, they were our jets. These jets are part of our heritage, they are very important to us because they used to fly them. They trained, some of them fought in combat, so it's good to restore them to their former glory."

Alaskan Air Command's units, including the 5021st Tactical Operations Squadron, flew the T-33A. Air Force Col. William Povilus, 21st Tactical Fighter Wing commander, requested the plane be retained in Alaska.

It was then added to the Air Force Museum inventory in 1987.

Povilus originally had it placed in JBER's Paxton Memorial Park, near the Government Hill gate, named after Air Force Col. Pat Paxton, a former commander of the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing killed in an F-15 crash in 1985.

The 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron repaired and refurbished it back to its arctic markings of the 1970s and mounted it in Heritage Park.

The T-33 made its first flight in 1948.

Production continued until 1959 with 5,691 T-33s built.

In addition to its use as a training aircraft, the T-33 has been used for such tasks as drone director and target towing, and in some countries even as a combat aircraft.
The RT-33A, a reconnaissance version made primarily for use by foreign countries, had a camera installed in the nose and additional equipment in the rear cockpit.

The T-33 is designed with two .50-caliber machine guns in the nose. It has a maximum speed of 525 miles per hour, and a maximum cruise speed of 455 miles per hour.

It is one of the world's best-known aircraft, having served with the air forces of more than 20 different nations over the course of several decades. It is a proud feature of Heritage Park, Horn said.

"We have a lot of visitors that come on base every year," the painter and operator said.
"One of the highlights of the base is going to Heritage Park and seeing jets there were actually in operation here at one point and there are actually some people that come who knew and flew these jets," Horn said.

"The jets are 40 to 60 years old and there are a lot of people that are veterans from that era who really enjoy seeing them. It means a lot."

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