A static P-38 Lightning museum exhibit in the US has been returned to flight. Restoration engineer Ashley Ezell discusses the project, while Kevin Grantham investigates the airframe’s history
In the spring of 2015, I was in California carrying out the maintenance of the Collings Foundation’s TP-51C Mustang, when I got a call from my employer and proprietor of American Aero, Gary Norville, who said: “Can you meet Rob and me in Portland [Rob Collings, see further on in story] when you are through with the Mustang?” I replied: “Sure, what’s up?” Gary explained: “Rob is working on a deal at the Evergreen Museum and wants us to look at some of the airplanes, primarily the B-17 and P-38.” The eventual arrival of the P-38, 44-53186, at New Smyrna Beach, Florida, would be the culmination of more than two months’ on-site work in Oregon and an 18-hour cross-country flight.
A must-see destination for any aviation enthusiast, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum (EASM) in McMinnville, Oregon, is one of the best collections in the world. And while the flying machines and spacecraft on display are fascinating, the facilities housing them are nothing short of amazing. The architectural vision of the museum’s creator, Del Smith, is also a sight to behold. After all, any building large enough to house Howard Hughes’ massive ‘Spruce Goose’ flying boat would have to be equally impressive. At that time, the museum was struggling financially, and Rob Collings (the Collings Foundation’s CEO) was working on a proposal to help EASM avoid bankruptcy. If the deal was accepted, the museum would lose some of its key exhibits, but would remain open and be able to work toward recovery. He needed an evaluation of the aircraft and this is where Gary and I became involved. During the initial visit, we met Terry Naig (since retired), a long-time employee of Del Smith’s, who had worked at the museum since its inception. He knew where everything was located and was a tremendous help throughout the entire project.
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When Gary and I began our evaluation, it was obvious the airframe was in excellent condition. The restoration was initiated in the 1990s by Evergreen’s own facility in Arizona and then completed by warbird restorer Darrell Skurich’s workshop in Colorado. It had been flown to Portland, Oregon, where it was painted then moved to the museum. It remained there until Rob Collings brought American Aero on to the scene some 11 years later.
In August 2015, the deal to rescue the museum was completed and Gary and I made our first trip to McMinnville to begin the process of bringing the P-38 back to life. Terry Juran was the museum curator throughout most of our work on the project, and kindly accommodated us in everything we asked for. He and another administrator, Julia Cannell, came by almost every morning to see how our work was progressing and whether we needed anything. Dave Martinez and his son Rich, who worked in the museum, were also extremely helpful…
The rest of this feature can be read in the current FlyPast, in UK shops now, or available at www.flypast.com