Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Restoring the Beast: Volunteer effort takes flight, even if warbird remains grounded

The "Beast" 10 days ago.

The "Beast" today.

HIXSON, TN. (WRCB) -- For the record, the Navy calls her color Light Gull Gray.

And now that the Hixson Museum of Flight's Vietnam-era T28 Trojan prop-fighter has a new coat of it, volunteer Jim Beaver is giving Grayson Buhrmann, 6, the sort of high-touch tour he'd never get at the Smithsonian.

"We've got him on," Beaver tells him. "You are now an ace pilot!"

Grayson's grin, and his 'thumbs-up" are all the thanks Beaver needs.

Beaver didn't serve in Vietnam. He's not a licensed pilot. Something else has driven him, and his wife Joan to volunteer countless hours to join in the restoration effort.

"This is one of the last radial engine planes," he says "If somebody doesn't keep that flying....."

"You just haven't lived until you've heard a radial engine," Joan Beaver finishes. "They're just beasts!"

Ten days earlier, the Beast's battle scars made her no beauty.

But her reassembly reflected a 6-day volunteers' marathon; a learn-as-you-go undertaking that paired Vietnam veterans, aviation buffs, amateur historians and the more-than-idly curious.

Flight student Sal Estrada is still sore from more than five hours of sanding and buffing, before he brought out his sprayer.

"I've learned I love painting airplanes," he says. "And this is an awesome plane, with all the history."

But the warbird is nowhere close to taking wing.

"It looks pretty good right now, but there's a lot of little things that it would need to be flyable," mechanic David Wells tells us.

"We have the engine painted multi-colors and all that stuff. But in the field, they'd just slap a can of silver paint on her and go on."

Whether the Beast ever flies again is secondary. Volunteers admit, readily, that her greater value is as a learning laboratory. Not only for young Grayson and other visitors; but the crew putting her back together.

For private pilot David Davis II, the lessons come from his fellow volunteers.

"This has been my, and their, home, for two solid weeks," he laughs.

"After we'd finish a days work, they'd be telling stories of what they'd done, and the places they'd been in the world."

For Jim and Joan Beaver, it's a family project in every sense.

"We had our 50th Anniversary party right here in the hangar," says he.

"Mid-Kangaroo Court," retorts she. "The cake was shaped like the plane!"

Their 16-year-old grand-daughter has joined the effort. The project holds many more months, maybe years of labor.

"But look at where we were two weeks ago, all those thousands of parts," Joan says. 

"Nothing was going on two years ago. It just blows your mind what has been accomplished."

For Davis, the journey is as important, or maybe more important, than the goal.

"It's something we can look at and say hey, we put this together. We shared the experience."

The Hixson Museum of Flight serves to preserve aviation history and to raise money for Children's Hospital. Follow its activities and the restoration effort, by clicking here.

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