In the back hangar of the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins there is a treasure trove of United States military history waiting to be unveiled.
The relics of old wars span decades and are in various stages of restoration thanks to a dedicated team of volunteer restorers.
“We had this radar unit, but we had to out and get this radar scope,” explained Jeff Summey, one of the leaders on one such restoration.
Summey and his team have been meticulously restoring an HU-16 Albatross for years, and still have years to go.
The seaplane got its name from the seabird as it performed rescues along combat zone coastlines.
The Albatross currently at the museum worked along the North and South Vietnamese coasts during the Vietnam War. It was one of the first planes at the museum back in 1983.
Now, it waits for a return to top form.
“This isn’t my airplane. This belongs, as I’ve told people, to the people of the United States. This is an Air Force airplane and a combat veteran of Vietnam. So, my first thing is to try to do no harm, make it look as good as it can look,” Summey said.
Summey considers himself a custodian of history and his team has spent 3,000 man-hours restoring the Albatross.
So far, they’ve replaced dials in the cockpit, flooring in the rest of the plane, the navigator’s cockpit, and electrical work. They’ve also some fresh paint and working signal lights.
But, Summey says it’ll take another five years to complete the project.
He has been volunteering in the restoration department for more than a decade.
He used to work on the Albatross on Saturdays, but since retiring from his day job two years ago, he and his team work on the plane at least four days a week.
It’s part of a busy department of restoration at the museum. The Albatross is not the only plane they’ve been working on.
An F-86 Sabre is all done except for a fresh coat of paint. It’s another plane that came to the museum in 1983, but it never saw combat.
The VB-26B Invader is sitting outside behind the hangars waiting for its time to shine once again -- it worked as a VIP Air National Guard transport.
It was the last B-26 Invader in the U.S. Air Force inventory, according to museum curator Mike Rowland
The Invader is one of the newest planes at the museum, arriving this year.
In a dark dusty corner of the same hangar that holds the Albatross, a B-57B Canberra is also waiting for fresh paint and a complete restoration. It was a Vietnam-era bomber and then was used for tests and training.
And eventually, they’ll get to a piece of presidential history in the same hangar.
There is a smaller Air Force One jet waiting for restoration that once flew Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and at one time, Gerald Ford.
The plane is also back home where it belongs, since it was made in Georgia.
At the moment, the inside is gutted but the cockpit looks closer to the time it flew, according to Rowland.
Rowland says walking among the restorations is still an honor.
“It is really neat to be able to see these up close and I feel very fortunate to be able to go inside the HU-16 [Albatross], I wish we could open it to everyone,” Rowland said.
Until they’re on display, these relics wait for some elbow grease and fresh paint so they can look flight ready, while spending retirement on the museum floor.
The Museum of Aviation is located at 1942 Heritage Boulevard and is only closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.