An F-15 Eagle is getting ready to "soar" again, this time at ground level at the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot. There, volunteers have been working over past weeks to get it ready for display.
The volunteers, who call themselves the "Eagle Keepers," are active-duty or retired aircraft maintenance personnel who are or have been in the Air Force. All have worked on various aircraft during their military careers.
The F-15 Eagle, on loan to the air museum from the National Museum of the Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, was towed by a Huwe The House Mover truck from Minot Air Force Base to the Minot air museum last fall. The plane had been at the base for a time. Before moving it to the air museum, it had to be demilitarized, a process that was done at Minot AFB by volunteers from the 5th Maintenance Group and members of the 120th Fighter Wing, a Montana Air National Guard unit, at Great Falls, Mont.
From the left, Darrel Kerzmann, Dave Smith, Terry Todd and Tim Lett are shown April 1 with the F-15 Eagle that they and several other volunteers have sanded, painted and even manufactured some items to prepare it for display at the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot. The plane was towed by truck to the air museum on U.S. Highway 83 and county roads, this past October.
Tim Lett, who recently retired from the Air Force, devised a way to install the afterburners in the F-15. The engines were removed during the plane’s demilitarization process.
The F-15 Eagle, foreground, is shown in this photo taken from the mezzanine in a hangar at the Dakota Territory Air Museum where the plane is being prepared for display. In the background is the “Duchess of Dakota,” far left, a C-47/C-53 belonging to the Texas Flying Legends Museum and “Duggie,” a DC-3, at right.
Minot AFB's former 5th Fighter Interceptor Squadron had F-15s for a time. The air museum's plans are to have an outdoor display of 5th Fighter's planes, including this F-15.
Darrel Kerzmann, an air museum board member who is retired from the Air Force, is coordinator of the "Eagle Keepers."
Since early this year, twice a week any volunteers who are available to work on the F-15 meet at the hangar.
"Anybody can come, but the list of guys are either prior military who have worked on the F-15 or they're currently military," Kerzmann said.
The "Eagle Keepers" main team includes Dave Smith, Tim Lett and Kerzmann, all retired from the Air Force; and Joe Fuller, Terry Todd, Jason Roberts and Joashua Willard, all active-duty Air Force members.
"Other people have helped from time to time, but this has been the core the main team. We call each other 'Eagle Keepers,' " Kerzmann said.
He explained the work the group has been doing:
"We had to wash it first because it was dusty and dirty. Then it was sanded, washed it again and then painted," Kerzmann said. "Before that, we had to manufacture panels to plug up any holes so birds couldn't nest inside the airplane."
He said the engines had to be removed from the plane. "But the Air Force museum allowed us to keep the afterburner sections so we could reinstall them to make the aircraft look a little bit more realistic. But because it (afterburner) bolts to the engine, we've had to create machine-attachment points to make it sit. So that's been the biggest challenge for us," he said.
Kerzmann said Smith made simulated guns for the F-15.
"This is going to stick out where it will look like there's a gun installed. That is so cool," Kerzmann said.
"It's got to have a final fitting on it yet and then I've got to weld it together," Smith said.
When both of the afterburners have been installed in the F-15, the volunteers will be very close to finishing the project. The final part is to add decals with the 5th Fighter insignia.
Kerzmann said they'll have the plane ready by the air museum's opening next month.
The air museum opens for the season on May 10.
"It won't be ready for the 5th Fighter display that we're working toward because we don't have the F-106 yet, but the F-15 itself will be ready for display," Kerzmann said.
On the wall in the hangar Kerzmann indicated a photo of the F-106 that the air museum will be getting from Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. A note is posted on the photo saying: "The next one."
He said the most recent information he has received about the F-106, as of late March, is the engine has been removed from the aircraft.
Once the demilitarization is completed, a shipping company that specializes in aircraft movements will bring the plane by truck to the Minot air museum. The plane will be shipped in pieces and reassembled at the air museum.
"We're hoping for a summer delivery," Kerzmann said.
Of the F-15 project, he said, "We're so happy that the Air Force museum and the 5th Bomb Wing allowed this to happen."