Passion for preservation

Eric Trueblood, recipient of a 2017 Young Alumni Achievement Award, restores WW II aircraft to flying condition

Eric Trueblood

Eric Trueblood poses for a photo in front of a VT-51 Avenger. While not a full restoration project, Aircorps Aviation was hired to attach a new wing to the naval torpedo bomber. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

BEMIDJI, Minn. — The experts at Aircorps Aviation restore warplanes that dominated the skies during World War II. Each plane, says founder and UND alum Eric Trueblood, ’06, has a unique story to tell of the men and women who assembled it, the pilot who flew it, and the contribution each made to history.

“When you drill down to the true motivation of our clients worldwide, it is to honor veterans and their service or sacrifice — that is a great honor and responsibility bestowed upon us,” Trueblood said. “While these veterans are still alive, I think a lot of our work has been focused on trying to tell their stories.”

Scrolling down, you’ll find photographs taken during a typical day at Aircorps Aviation as workers begin the painstaking restoration of their latest project, a P-47D Thunderbolt, recovered from a Pacific island.

Painstaking process

Painstaking process

To resurrect, rebuild, and assemble the 45,000+ parts in an airframe it can take three to four years for AirCorps Aviation’s three dozen employees to restore a plane to its former self. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

 Fabrication

Fabrication

Workers use 1940s factory drawings and modern technologies like 3D scanning to reverse engineer, fabricate and assemble parts for their restoration projects. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Spare parts

Spare parts

AirCorps Aviation will inspect, restore, and reassemble as many original parts as possible. These wings, awaiting disassembly, are for a P-47. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Restoration

Restoration

Because of the complexity and size of its restoration projects, AirCorps Aviation tackles just two restorations on the shop floor at a time. A single restoration can take up to 30,000 man hours. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Airworthy

Airworthy

Workers try to restore as many parts as possible, but rebuilds of this magnitude require fabrication of components to exact original specifications. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Rivets

Rivets

AirCorps is known worldwide for meticulous detail with a goal toward authenticity. Even parts like rivets are reproduced to WWII specifications. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

 Riveters

Riveters

Craftsmen at AirCorps Aviation rebuild parts that are missing or too damaged to return to airworthiness. Here, Randy Kraft inspects rivets on the vertical stabilizer tail section of the P-47D Thunderbolt. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

 Rosie signatures

Rosie the Riveter Signatures

After receiving surplus parts for use in the restoration of a P-47D Thunderbolt, workers at AirCorps Aviation discovered two names written in grease pencil inside a wing. In telling the stories of those who served, AirCorps has begun a search for Eva and Edith. These two women undoubtedly worked on construction of the wing, which came off a Thunderbolt that was built in Buffalo, New York, during WWII. Image courtesy of John LaTourelle.

Fuselage

Fuselage

This P-47D Thunderbolt was found abandoned in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Once restored, the aircraft will retake the skies as if it rolled out of the factory. It will be one of only two Thunderbolts of this variant still flying in the entire world. Image courtesy of Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

 Lope’s Hope

Lope's Hope

The restoration of this P-51C Mustang, Lope’s Hope 3rd, was completed this fall. The restoration was commissioned by the Texas Flying Legends Museum. The plane was restored and painted to honor WWII Ace Lt. Donald Lopez Sr. Lopez was instrumental in the opening of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and served as its deputy director and chief historical architect. Image courtesy of John LaTourelle.

Photo Essay by Sam Melquist/UND Alumni Association & Foundation