Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
FREE Admission & Parking

'The Independence' interior receives a refresh

  • Published
  • By Sarah Swan
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Visitors who walk through the Douglas VC-118 The Independence this summer will notice a more vibrant look to the 68-year-old presidential aircraft.

Museum staff and volunteers worked diligently for more than three months to conduct conservation work, reinforce floors and install new Plexiglas and LED lighting in preparation for the aircraft's move to the new fourth building.

The VC-118 was formally commissioned into the U.S. Army Air Forces on July 4, 1947, and was nicknamed The Independence for President Harry Truman's hometown in Missouri. Probably the plane's most historic flight occurred when it carried President Truman to Wake Island in October 1950 to discuss the Korean situation with Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

After years of visitors walking through the aircraft, as well as the effects of light damage and dryness inside the plane, The Independence was in need of conservation efforts, according to Museum Conservator Jennifer Myers, who oversaw the project. She and five volunteers focused on stabilizing and preserving the aircraft in order to ensure its historical integrity.

The volunteers swept, scrubbed and cleaned every surface inside the aircraft, even using cotton swabs and toothbrushes to remove dust from switches and dials. Myers concentrated on hand-cleaning and repairing small artifacts, such as playing cards and matchboxes, and treating fabrics like the leather seats. For example, she patched the seats in the presidential compartment - they were very fragile due to the deterioration of the foam padding, which caused the leather to become brittle, crack and tear. The cockpit seats also required repairs due to the dry environment and excessive exposure to sunlight coming through the hangar doors.

There were some interesting discoveries during the course of the work. For instance, they found packages of toilet paper and small soaps that were left inside the plane when it was retired. Those items will be accessioned into the Museum's collection, Myers said.

Nicotine removal also became a significant part of the clean-up.

"People smoked a lot in this plane when it was flying," Myers said. "There were even ash trays in the cockpit. It was really a sign of the times."

Overall, Myers was very proud of the team's work in preserving the aircraft for the future.

"This was a great collaborative effort," she said, noting that the project involved the Collection Management, Research and Restoration Divisions.

All four walk-through presidential aircraft are being cleaned prior to going on display in the fourth building. Conservation work was completed on Air Force One, SAM 26000, in late 2013, and the VC-54C Sacred Cow and the VC-121E Columbine III will undergo work later this year.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Friends Journal. To receive the Journal and other benefits, become a member of the Air Force Museum Foundation.