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USAF Nieuport 28s and F-22 Raptors: The Flabob Connection

Nieuport replica
A group of F-22 mechanics had never worked with wood or fabric but met the challenge of rebuilding a WWI Nieuport 28 with enthusiasm and superlative skills.

One of the oldest existing U.S. Air Force fighter units is the 94th "Hat in the Ring" Squadron, made famous in World War I by Eddie Rickenbacker. The 94th's historic lineage includes Nieuports and Spads in WWI; P-38s in WWII; followed by F-86s, F-4s, F-15s, and now the F-22 Raptor. For more than 25 years, the 94th displayed a full-scale Nieuport 28 replica outside its squadron building to honor its first combat fighter. Last summer a freak windstorm destroyed the Nieuport, and members of the Hat in the Ring Squadron vowed to restore it.

Donations flooded in from 94th alumni worldwide. The only problem was that the current F-22 maintenance guys didn't know much about working on 1917 wood and fabric aircraft. Several contractors offered to replace the replica at inflated prices, but their quotes were well beyond the squadron budget.

Jon Goldenbaum, president of Poly Fiber headquartered at Flabob Airport in Riverside, California, got word of what happened. He was an F-15 pilot with the 94th when the replica was built, and at that time his hobby was antique/classic aircraft. In those years, he owned and maintained a Taylorcraft he flew at Langley when he wasn't in an F-15. Since Goldenbaum was the only pilot in the unit who knew anything about fabric aircraft, he wound up helping builder Ken Kellett assemble and install the airplane in front of the 94th. Later, Goldenbaum gave Kellett a ride in an F-15, a memory they share to this day when they meet at air shows.

Since the windstorm, Goldenbaum coached the 94th F-22 maintainers on antique aircraft restoration via e-mail and phone calls. The 94th guys installed a wood shop in an F-22 hangar, then launched out with enthusiasm on new skills, cutting wood, welding steel, and forming aluminum. In January, Goldenbaum and top Poly Fiber technician Hualdo Mendoza flew to Langley to help finish the restoration and teach the high-tech F-22 guys how to cover a 1917 WWI fighter with fabric. Over 20 Air Force technicians worked on the project, and soon fabric components were in the paint shop receiving an authentic WWI camouflage paint job with the proud "Hat in the Ring" emblazoned on the side.

The replica will be rededicated this month, then installed in its place of honor in the front of the 94th. If you get a chance to visit Langley Air Force Base, don't miss seeing the 1917 airplane completely restored by 2012 F-22 maintainers, with a little help from the past and Flabob.

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