A Ponsford Conservation Group restorer works on grinding paint on the U.S. Air Force F-15 Aegle static display jet in preparation for a fresh coat of paint at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon on July 7, 2019. This jet is on loan from the Museum of the U.S. Air Force, and is getting its first full refresh in 15 years. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman First Class Adam Smith)
KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. —
At the entrance to Kingsley Field, an F-15 Eagle, F-4 Phantom and F-16 Fighting Falcon welcome everyone who sets foot there. Dubbed “Fighter Alley”, three static aircraft continue their service after spending their younger years thundering through the skies above Klamath Falls. Like any aircraft, time in the sun and other weather requires an occasional repainting. These three aircraft are getting their first fresh coat of paint in 15 years from the Ponsford Conservation Group.
Master Sgt. Ryan Rickets, custodian of the static displays and a 173rd Fighter Wing quality assurance inspector, said repainting does a lot more than merely make the jets look good – it also protects the jet. “Corrosion, more than anything, just being in the environment. We’re lucky that we’re in a very dry environment here, so we can get away with a six-year paint. If you were closer to the ocean, say, Tyndall Air Force Base, they’re probably closer to a three-year paint.”
This regular maintenance is part of a contract with the Museum of the Air Force to preserve the aircraft as they would have looked on the day they flew. It is vital that the restoration is as accurate as possible, down to the names written on the side.
“We are not allowed to paint somebody else’s name on that aircraft that did not fly it,” said Rickets. “That’s the historical significance that these aircraft represent, down to the font that you’re going to see on the aircraft as they get painted. It is period specific.”
The 173rd Fighter Wing maintains complete records of each of the aircraft, and every five years makes a complete report to the historians at the Museum of the Air Force, who owns the jets.
Chief Master Sgt. Mark Draper, 173rd FW chief of equipment maintenance, said that working on the jets isn’t an easy task. “For one they are on a pedestal, so they’ve been having to use booms to get up in the awkward, weird places because the aircraft is at an angle.” Other challenges include environmental concerns. “We had people driving past, and we don’t want to overspray on their cars, so we had to move all the cars at troop housing,” he added.
Restoration work began July 2, and is likely to last about two and a half weeks. The crew has been working without taking a single day off, including through the holiday weekend.
The restoration is also going to include the Ground Instruction Training Aircraft F-15 Eagle, a non-flying aircraft used for maintenance training and general instruction, as well as a static display for dignitaries and visitors to the flight line.
Draper has been planning this restoration since 2016. “It’s mandated that we take care of these aircraft. If we have them, then we have a responsibility to maintain them.”