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Lt. Ted Shealy’s Restoration Shop - The Heart of the Pacific Aviation Museum's Restoration Hangar

Syd Jones and KT Budde-Jones
Restoration Director and Education Director
Pacific Aviation Museum - Pearl Harbor
for EAA Warbirds Briefing

Tommy Lau
WWII mechanic Tommy Lau working on the L-5 project. Photo by KT Budde-Jones
Larger view

Syd Jones
Syd Jones explains the L-5 restoration to a tour group. Photo by KT Budde-Jones.
Larger view

The Pacific Aviation Museum’s (PAM) Ford Island location in the middle of Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor is certainly one of the most historically significant sites in America. The hangars that house the museum are the same ones that bore witness to the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II.

The museum’s displays and aircraft are currently located in Hangar 37, with plans underway for future displays to fill Hangars 79 and 54. Visitors to the museum will not have to wait until these exhibits are completed to visit Hangar 79. In fact, they will find a very unique and historically appropriate attraction located there right now.

Hangar 79 dominates the museum’s property, in size as well as historical presence. The largely unrestored structure encloses 2 acres of floor space, and at each end the towering door’s blue glass windows are still riddled with bullet holes left by the Japanese attack. During the war it was a maintenance and engine repair facility, filled with fighters, bombers, and patrol aircraft that were based in Pearl Harbor or transiting through to the front lines.

The museum has used Hangar 79 as a temporary aircraft restoration and exhibit construction facility since first occupying the site in February 2006. It is still filled with a number of aircraft awaiting preparation for future displays. In 2007, Mike and Carol Shealy approached the museum, wanting to fund a display to highlight the huge contribution aircraft maintenance personnel have made to military aviation. Several concepts were explored, but the all-around favorite was to restore part of Hangar 79 back to its original World War II maintenance configuration, using modern-day restoration activities as an interactive way of presenting the techniques and stories of the maintenance crews.

Though some shop equipment, including a new compressor system donated by Starr and Company, was already on site, much more would be needed to fill the needs of a dedicated facility. Simultaneous efforts began to locate and purchase the needed shop tools as well as to restore one of the original workshop bays. With no real aircraft restoration equipment in existence in Hawaii, just about everything had to be sourced from the mainland with the help of Matson Shipping.

One side of Hangar 79 presented itself as the best spot to establish the restoration area. The large, original tool “crib” was still there but needed a complete rebuild to make it serviceable again. All the original light fixtures and window glass were still there but in need of repair, and the walls were brought back to their original paint color. The whole workshop was rewired and re-equipped with pneumatic lines and regulators for air-powered tools just as it originally had been.

From the beginning it was planned that all the machines and equipment purchased for the shop would be American made - a choice in keeping with the profound American history that played out on Ford Island and the waters of Pearl Harbor. Tennsmith, NorthRidge Tools, Imperial Wheeling Machine, Daggar Tools, Snap-on Tools, and others all assisted in the procurement of their equipment. Aero Trader in California helped broker a deal for some used but serviceable metal-forming machines. One unique find in Indiana was a fully restored South Bend lathe that still bore a tag stating, “This machine conforms to the orders of the War Production Board.” It fits perfectly into the ambience of Hangar 79 and works like new. A high-tech paint booth was purchased to be installed on the other side of the hangar. It took nearly a year to locate and ship out all of the accumulated tools and equipment.

With the restoration equipment finally installed in the freshly restored shop bay, preparing appropriate signage and graphics for the facility was the next stage. To make sure the shop’s “identity” was historically correct, it was important to find the original maintenance organization insignia that existed in the hangar during World War II. Despite much research, all efforts seemed to lead nowhere. The Navy historian was able to identify only the later CASU-1 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit) as one of the maintenance entities active on the opposite side of Ford Island. Fortunately, PAM volunteer Tommy Lau (who actually worked in 79 during the war) was able to produce a document with the long-sought-after insignia.

The newly refurbished restoration facility was appropriately named “Lt. Ted Shealy’s Restoration Shop.” Ted Shealy was an exceptional aircraft maintenance man whose naval career spanned naval biplane fighters in 1936 all the way to F-4 Phantoms during the Cold War. During World War II he was stationed on Ford Island, served aboard the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Midway, and would later return to Hawaii, being stationed at Barbers Point, where he would meet his future wife (a WAVE aircraft maintenance worker). The shop is dedicated to those whose ability, dedication, perseverance, and can-do attitude helped “Keep ’em Flying.”

Unlike many restoration facilities where the activities can be viewed only from a distance, if at all, the Shealy Restoration Shop is an interactive experience for PAM visitors. This gives them insights as to how America’s aviation factories looked before the war, the importance of aircraft maintenance, the rapid evolution of aircraft technology, and the hands-on “Rosie the Riveter” experience.

Visitors can picture themselves there, shooting rivets, supporting the war effort, and feeling like they made a difference. It is hard today to imagine that we as individuals would have enough courage to storm the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima or take off from an aircraft carrier into battle; hard to image that we could summon up the courage to purposely put ourselves in harm’s way. However, in the Shealy Restoration Shop, shooting a rivet, we can picture ourselves bucking up to both the rivet and the challenge of winning the war, and we see where we, as individuals, can make a difference on the home front even if we cannot picture ourselves on the front lines.

The current project in the restoration shop is a Stinson L-5E that was actually based on Ford Island late in the war. Though used extensively in the Pacific, this particular aircraft was built in July 1945 and arrived in Hawaii too late to be sent off to combat. It is the air ambulance version, capable of carrying a stretcher behind the pilot.

Another mission for this type of aircraft was artillery spotting. In fact, the first American aircraft to land on Iwo Jima during the battle was a Stinson L- air ambulance used by the Marines to guide the naval barrage onto dug-in Japanese positions.

The museum’s L-5 quickly became surplus after the war, with two civilian Hawaiian owners, the last being Thomas Kaiawe. For more than 30 years the components were stored in a rat-infested, leaky Quonset hut near Hawaii’s north shore. In 2007 Thomas decided to donate his L-5 and a restored World War II Harley-Davidson military motorcycle to PAM.

The aircraft was truly complete, even the original World War II radios were still installed. The initial inspection of the wings, fuselage, and control surfaces didn’t hint at the problems within. Years of storage in salt air, high humidity, and rat infestation had taken their toll. Though the fuselage remained in reasonable condition, once the unblemished fabric was removed from the wings and control surfaces, the scale of the restoration changed dramatically. Almost all the metal parts were no longer usable, even for a static display. The wooden wings had become a rat condo, with much damage from their chewing and bodily fluids. Fortunately, the spars and most of the main ribs were still serviceable, and the metal parts were good enough for pattern work. Since so much had to be replaced, the decision was made to restore it back to airworthy condition, as the costs wouldn’t be significantly more and the ultimate value of the aircraft would be greater.

After mounting them on a “rotisserie” fixture, both wings were completely rebuilt and all the original metal parts, except for a few surviving castings, were replicated and installed. At this writing, the metal-work fabrication of all the control surfaces is just about finished, and the missing litter door is in the beginning phases of fabrication. The unique droop aileron mechanism and leading-edge slats that gave the Stinson such good short takeoff and landing performance are completed. The restoration of the fuselage and its components will begin soon.

It is quite unique to be restoring this Ford Island veteran in the actual workshops that were used for its maintenance in World War II. With the restoration shop up and running again, you can hear the faint beating of Hangar 79’s heart waiting for its turn to be restored back to its former glory.

The Pacific Aviation Museum - Pearl Harbor is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It features vintage aircraft, flight simulators, a restaurant, and museum store. Call 808-441-1000 or visit www.PacificAviationMuseum.org for tickets and more information.

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