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Restoration volunteers show love of detail in their work

  • Published
  • By Sarah Swan
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Their work is so intricate, so tiny, that you may not even notice it even if you peer closely at the aircraft on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

But it is essential - for the eight men who volunteer as machinists and draftsmen in the museum's Restoration Division, and for those who rely on the parts they manufacture to ensure each project is as accurate as possible.

Machinists Jerry Archer, Art Daubert, Jon Frank, Jeff Helman, Phil Mercurio, John Rumpf and Dave Stemen and draftsman Bill Denlinger offer their skills to the Restoration Division each week. Most are retired tool and die makers and are happy to use their talents to help tell the story of military aviation.

"I wanted to keep working, keep my brain moving," said Daubert, who worked as a toolmaker for more than 40 years and has been a volunteer at the museum for 10 years. "These may be parts no one sees, but we make parts for whatever is needed."

Archer, another long-time toolmaker, said the group is called upon to make connectors, pipe fittings and missing parts. Sometimes, they need to make a piece out of a different material than the original to help preserve it for future generations.

Crafting a part could take an hour or as long as six months, and many of the pieces are a challenge to create.

"You really have to think about how you do this," said Rumpf, who showed a rubber piece from the Bristol Beaufighter, which took almost a year to make. "Sometimes you cannot get it right the first time, and sometimes one part is really seven or even eight smaller parts."

Helman enjoys working with and learning from the other men. His family has a history of tool and die making - his dad and grandfather were both machinists, and he and his brother now run the family's machine and tool business in Rosewood, Ohio.

"The wealth of knowledge here is amazing," he said. "I've always been a huge fan of the museum and love airplanes and flying. This is a way to give back to my country and to help preserve history."

An integral part of the process is Denlinger's drafting skills. The machinists work from other parts, photos or drawings.

Denlinger described one major project, the bomb rack on the MB-2. He traveled to Rock Island to look at and measure another MB-2, and then created his drawing from those measurements. Archer and other machinists used those drawings to recreate the needed parts.

"These drawings can give them the information they need to create a part," said Denlinger, who was a designer for 50 years before volunteering at the museum, where he has accumulated more than 7,000 hours of service.

At the end of the day, all of the men agreed on one thing.

"We take pride in our work," said Frank, who decided to volunteer after participating in one of the museum's restoration tours with his son. "A lot of times, nobody will ever see it again because it is inside the plane. But it is a great learning experience and also really rewarding."

Information about ongoing restoration projects is available at

Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2013-14 issue of Friends Journal. To receive the Journal and other benefits, become a member of the Air Force Museum Foundation.