Each year, nearly one million people visit the Museum and are awestruck by aircraft on display. what few people realize is the extensive restoration and maintenance required to bring these artifacts to life.
The Museum houses some of the most significant examples of naval aircraft anywhere in the world. While most aircraft came directly from Navy inventory, a handful were lost to history until extensive research identified the location of each plane. Each aircraft was resurrected form a number of different places, ranging from the bottom of Lake Michigan to a nameless lake near the Arctic Circle.
Over 40 rare warbirds have been recovered through the efforts of the Museum and Foundation, efforts that continue through the generosity of private donors. Corroded, torn and deteriorated, these and other warbirds were brought to the volunteers and staff of the National Naval Aviation Museum and Naval Aviation Museum Foundation where thousands of man-hours were spent preparing them for their new mission.
Driven by passion for Naval Aviation, a group of staff and volunteers continually dedicate their craftsmanship, knowledge, personal time and assistance to the restoration and maintenance of the Museum’s aircraft. Divided into twelve shops, the restoration department embodies the skills crucial to the accurate restoration of these historical gems. The shops include: Administration, Instrument, Fabric, Hardware, Paint, Restoration, Metal, Machine, Welding, Tool, Engine and Aircraft Maintenance.
Restoration begins with workers reducing each component to its smallest part. A gradual inspection, treatment and installation of each and every piece holding the aircraft together follows. Since each part is restored separately, there often appears to be little progress until the final reassembly of the aircraft. During this process, the number one priority is historical accuracy. Not only do the workers restore the aircraft using “new old equipment” (parts that can be changed without harming historical correctness), but they also retain historical integrity by retaining original factory parts as well as any maintenance received during its service. Each project is unique and challenges the restoration department’s skills at various levels.