HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – The Hill Aerospace Museum here is working on two major projects, a static display restoration of an F-16 test aircraft and a C-130 aircraft fuselage which will become an interactive classroom.
While both undertakings have been ongoing for some time, they are rapidly approaching completion. Museum Director Aaron Clark is excited about the projects.
“A great deal of progress has been made, especially recently,” said Clark. “Structurally, the F-16, nicknamed ‘Little Precious,’ is complete and has been moved inside the fighter gallery. It is now painted in its original test aircraft paint scheme and receiving final stenciling. Meanwhile, the C-130 has been completely modified, sealed up, and moved into its permanent location outside the learning center.”
Clark and his museum staff are working with Bertoldi Architects and Kier Construction on the C-130 project. Both firms have been partners with the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah since the project’s beginning and are in the final design stage, which includes construction of the walkway from the C-130 to the learning center. The C-130 will become the learning center’s fifth classroom.
Little Precious was one of three F-16 test aircraft stationed at Hill AFB. It was assigned to Hill in 1983 and retired in 1995; it was operated by the 514th Test Squadron. From there, it was gutted, filled with sandbags, and displayed on a pedestal at West Gate in time for the Air Force’s 50th anniversary in 1997. Eventually, it was taken down for conversion to operational status but this proved to be cost inhibitive so it was turned over to the museum.
Restoration began by removing the sand and replacing the entire cockpit and canopy with period correct equipment obtained by cannibalizing an unused museum F-16 simulator. To finish the project, the paint scheme was returned to its original test aircraft colors, orange and white.
Clark had a lot of help with the restoration process.
“There have been a lot of people invested in this aircraft,” he said, “the primaries being several different units from the 388th Fighter Wing who were instrumental in the restoration of the cockpit, canopy and entire aircraft, as well as the [Ogden Air Logistics Complex] who provided stencils and contributed greatly to the project.”
According to Clark, however, most of the work has been managed and accomplished by Bill Love, a 29-year museum volunteer and former depot painter, and the restoration company Envirotech, led by Gavin Peters. Together, these parties have transformed this plane back to its historical state, which was no easy task since its been outside, unprotected for 20 years.
Little Precious is now on display and can be seen in the museum, just in time for the Air Force’s 70th anniversary.
Plans for the C-130 classroom conversion have been in place since the aircraft was given to the museum 16 years ago, but it has remained in storage ever since. With all pieces finally ready, work began last year and progress has been steady. All of the structural supports located along the aircraft’s center section have been attached and set in concrete and all panels have been reinstalled. Additionally, all gauges and webbed seats have been installed, windows have been replaced, and doors sealed up.
“We are excited about this new addition and have been working on a very special presentation to accompany this unique classroom environment,” said Heritage Foundation Director of Education Mark Standing. “It’s called ‘The C-130 experience’ and while inside the aircraft classroom, guests will enjoy a visual mission presentation that looks at every type of mission the C-130 has ever flown.”
Visual C-130 presentations will include a C-130 aircraft used as a weather station; a C-130 flying in the eye of a hurricane; an Antarctica landing by a C-130 outfitted with 1-ton skis; and a C-130 mission involving the Fulton Surface-to-Air Recovery System.
Clark is grateful to the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group and all base organizations and individuals that have contributed time and work toward the completion of both projects.
“Our goal is to involve many different base organizations with the restorations, in hope that it will foster a sense of contribution and ownership of the aircraft at the museum,” said Clark. “We are here to tell the history of Hill AFB, its contributions to the Air Force, [Defense Department], and our nation’s defense worldwide. We are here to tell Airmen’s stories and hope they and their families enjoy the museum experience with feelings of ‘that’s my connection, that’s my history, that’s my museum.’ ”