Leatherneck Museum begins Skyray restoration
Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
Story Identification #: 2004722141611
Story by Sgt. Kristen L. Tull

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Jul. 22, 2004) -- Ordered by the Navy in 1953 and retired in 1964, an aged Douglas F4D-1 Skyray endured a cross-country trip to be displayed at the Flying Leatherneck Museum. It's one of four being displayed at museums across the nation and according to Steve Smith, assistant curator, "We are lucky to have it."

"This is the only plane to serve for the Navy with the North American Air Defense Command" said Smith. "It broke the time to height record five times during its short use, breaking the sound barrier on its maiden flight."

The trip from Virginia wasn't easy. The wings had to be cut off in order to fit through the streets on the single trailer that brought it to California. It took the curators three days working from sunrise to sunset just to put the wings back on.

"There are still things we need to get in order to make the plane complete, such as landing gear," said Smith. When asked where they will get the landing gear, he jokingly replied for anyone to call if they had any leads.

When can spectators expect to see this record-breaking piece of history? With many planes in line before it...in about three years. The restoration process takes that long to accomplish, approximately 7,500 man hours of labor.

"The hardest part of museum aircraft restoration is steam cleaning, stripping, sanding, and/or scraping an aircraft surface down to a usable surface," said Thomas O'Hara, museum curator.

Many of the aircraft the museum receives are 50 to 60 years old and may have been painted five or six times with incompatible paints.

"This can create a chemical reaction that can actually eat into the aircrafts' metal skin," added O'Hara.

When possible, parts such as the fuselage and fuel bladders are removed in order to steam clean and repaint the aircrafts' interior.

"When we took the fuel bladders out we found several tools and a letter to one of the aircraft mechanics dated in 1958," said O'Hara.

Once it's all sanded down and repaired, it must be put back together and primed for display in the harsh sun and San Diego's salty sea air.

According to O'Hara, the hard part is just beginning.

"Putting the insignia on the aircraft is the most tedious and difficult step in the entire process," said O'Hara.

The curators try to depict a historically significant or combat significant theme, from that point, O'Hara says they will follow an example, such as a photo, of how an aircraft was actually painted by Marines in the field.

"Once the insignia is complete and all the parts replaced, the aircraft is ready to be rolled out for display," said O'Hara.

The Skyray, known as "The Bat Out of Hell", is waiting to be "re-born". At around $3,000 and lots of elbow grease, museum visitors can look forward to seeing this aircraft as well as many others along side the others in due time.