|Integrated Defense Systems|
TRASH to TREASURE
Boeing team transforms scrapped T-45 into work of art
BY KATHLEEN COOK
One man's trash is another man's treasure." That's more than a cliché for a few Boeing Integrated Defense Systems employees in Meridian, Miss. They've made it the truth by turning a piece of scrap into a display model for their U.S. Navy customer.
The "scrap" was a retired T-45 Goshawk, the jet trainer Boeing IDS produces for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft, designated D001, started life as a test article. The test team dropped it from the roofs of buildings; they twisted and bent it to validate the integrity of the airframe.
After several years of static testing, the T-45 "retired" to the Boeing "bone yard" in St. Louis, where it sat through heat and humidity, rain and snow. But in 2001 the aircraft hulk got a second chance when a team of employees from St. Louis and Meridian saw treasure where others saw trash.
The Boeing T-45 Training System team, led by Program Manager Bob Legal and Integrated Logistics Support Manager Tom Sonderman, wanted to provide the training wing at Naval Air Station Meridian with a full-scale display model. Although finding a ready-made model was impossible, Sonderman discovered the remains of the test article—in several pieces, baking in the sun—and saw potential where others saw scrap metal.
He started planning with Tom McGuire, the Boeing site manager at NAS Meridian. "We thought—no, we knew—we could make this work," McGuire said. He sent Larry Colley, one of the Contractor Logistics Support team members from Meridian, to St. Louis to bring back the aircraft.
"It was like a 1950s car in an old junkyard," Colley said of the aircraft. Structural tests and the weather definitely had taken a toll. Parts were scattered throughout the area, and a small cottonwood tree was growing in the aft cockpit of the fuselage.
"I went through the yard, marking each piece I wanted to take," he said. It took several hours to mark the more than 45 separate pieces, which ranged from the 2,000-pound fuselage to nuts and bolts that weighed only a few ounces. Colley and his team loaded the pieces onto flatbed trailers and sent them to the hangar in Meridian, where Boeing IDS maintains the T-45 Goshawks for the Navy.
Geoff Wilson, who took over site manager responsibilities when McGuire retired, agreed that this was "a huge effort, researching, locating and transporting the parts needed for this project. This was truly a team effort."
It was not a small team, either. When Hamaker asked for volunteers, more than 40 people offered their expertise. "When you get a lot of talented guys together, you can do anything," Colley said.
The volunteers did just that. Their first task was to plan the project and schedule not only what had to be done, but how best to fit those tasks around the volunteers' time and the availability of hangar space. They also had to locate missing parts and get them to Meridian.
The team started the work on the aircraft in late 2001 with application of bonding material to the fuselage to repair hundreds of cracks. Because some pieces that couldn't be found were critical for the display, the team had to create them "by hook or by crook," Hamaker said.
The team's metal workers manufactured several missing parts by literally hammering the metal by hand to form panels, landing gear doors and flaps. "A lot of the pieces that, in normal manufacturing, would be made with a special press, we had to do by hand," said Jim Belcas, who led the metal workers on this project. "We made the tail hook from a fuel probe off an A-4 [aircraft]," McGuire said. "The guys just pitched in, and if they had to create something from nothing, they did it."
It took several months before the restoration began to resemble an aircraft. Because the volunteers were working on their off hours, even relatively simple tasks could take weeks.
For example, it took three months to paint the aircraft—a job that normally would take 21 days. "We had to slip it in [the paint booth] between the regular workday schedule," explained Lewis Howard Jr., the paint crew lead. The volunteers had to move the aircraft in and out of the paint booth 15 to 20 times, and they hand-wrapped it in protective sheeting each time they moved it onto the tarmac.
Wrapping the display took 45 minutes, but taking the covering off "was like Christmas," said Leo Winford, who helped with the paint. "It was just 'rip and go!'" The aircraft—not surprisingly—had a lot of corrosion, so it was necessary to "take down to primer, then re-prime it—it really took more prep work than paint," Howard said. Moreover, the team had to use another T-45 as a model to paint several of markings by hand.
Finally, after several thousand hours of painstaking work, the job was finished. "When it was done, we just stood back in awe at what we'd done," Belcas said.
The Navy agreed. Commander Mark Kinnane, commanding officer of Training Squadron 7, who accepted the display on behalf of the Navy at a ceremony on April 2, noted that the Boeing team had "transformed a shell into a work of art.
"I personally witnessed this aircraft arrive on the flight line," he said. "It was truly a shell of an aircraft. Over the months, the Boeing artisans—and I don't use that term lightly; they are true artists—rebuilt this aircraft to its current pristine condition. For anyone who knows the T-45, look closely. You will have a difficult time distinguishing what is a Boeing factory part from what is a crafted part."
Visitors to the flight line at Meridian will have plenty of opportunity to do just that. The aircraft is on permanent display close to the flight line, outside the training air wing's hangar.
Boeing employees at Meridian will always be able to point with pride to the results of their "Trash-to-Treasure" project.
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