EPHRATA — It rolled into Seattle’s Museum of Flight back in August with all the dignity and respect of any war hero who has served and protected America’s freedom.
If metal and technology could talk, what a story it would tell. The grand ol’ warrior, a retired McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C registered by the U.S. Navy as number 163106, but known to the elite Blue Angel Team as No. 2, was retired earlier this year. Its delivery to the museum was followed by thousands of enthusiasts on social media documenting its journey across the country from Pensacola, Fla. to Seattle, where it will be permanently housed inside the museum’s new Airpark Pavilion.
The F/A-18 joined the Blue Angels in early 2004 after a distinguished combat record. It was a member of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 87 and was used in combat operations during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch in Iraq, as well as Operation Continue Hope in Somalia. It also flew over Afghanistan after 9/11, and flew strikes over Iraq in 2003.
America’s freedom isn’t free, but the restoration of this retired warrior is. A seven-member West Coast contingent spent four days cleaning, restoring and detailing the bird back to its former glory. Bill Quinn from Ephrata is part of the group from the Pacific Northwest calling itself “The Detail Mafia” with members from anywhere from Seattle, to Idaho, to Woodinville and Ephrata.
“We don’t get paid for it, this is all volunteer hours,” said Quinn, who is also a four-time detailer on Air Force One. “Every time you work on one of these planes it just gives you the chills. You can see the bumps on the plane. You can see the cockpit where the pilots have held the controls. You can smell the plane and see what it’s been through.
“I love being around these planes because there’s so much history behind everyone. This one has been all over the world, helped many different types of sorties. Its last role was a Blue Angel and it will be a Blue Angel in the museum for the rest of its life.”
The process is one of pride and attention to detail and one of great importance.
“You have to be very critical with the plane because it is a museum piece,” Quinn said. “It is a retired aircraft that has been flown many years. We went in and dry washed the plane. We have a process where we polish to preserve the paint that’s on there. We don’t want to damage the paint because we’re trying to preserve it for years to come. It took about 30 man hours. After we’re done, we seal the paint with a specific coating to protect it from weather.”
As the Detail Mafia was working on the process, people were allowed to come through as part of the museum gallery. One gentleman took a particular interest. Come to find out he was a former Blue Angel pilot. He wasn’t in the seat of this particular bird the Angels nicknamed Holly, but he was appreciative of the care she was getting.
“Doing this kind of work is very heartfelt and you feel very humbled at the same time,” Quinn said. “We don’t take it for granted. It’s a very humbling experience to have the opportunity to do something like this. By the time we were through, it looked like it was brand new.”