Durham Restoration Gallery

As we look toward the future of flight and space, we must commemorate the feats of aviation from the past that make it possible. Our process focuses on restoring and preserving dignity for our collection of aircraft to honor their role in our nation’s history.

The complete restoration of an aircraft at the Museum takes, on average, two years and approximately 10,000 hours of labor. In a normal month, 600 to 1,000 volunteer hours are donated to the museum. The annual total of volunteer hours in restoration is around 8,000.

Our Process

The restoration process begins with the removal of up to eight coats of paint, mostly achieved through a process called soda blastingshooting baking soda at a high speed and pressure. In places where the paint must be removed mechanically, volunteers sand the aircraft by hand or use small quantities of a chemical stripper.

After the paint is removed, the aircraft is washed and assessed for structural soundness. The aircraft is then deconstructed, with all flight control surfaces removed to be restored separately. The control surfaces usually need to be re-covered with fabric or aluminum skins. The controls are restored, painted and set aside for installation at a later time.

Steps three and four are completed simultaneously, as they require the most volunteers and time. One crew works inside the aircraft, removing any equipment to repair or restore it in the shop. Any broken windows, floor panels or structural pieces are replaced or repaired. 

The exterior crew removes inspection and access panels to reveal the inside structure of the aircraft. Frequently, large quantities of bird nests and other debris are found within the structure. After removal, areas of corrosion or damage are replaced or repaired. The landing gears and gear wells are manually stripped of paint, doors are removed and repaired, and other exterior equipment is removed and restored separately.

The aircraft is ready to be painted once the interior and exterior structure are restored. It is cleaned, and the sections of the aircraft are masked off to allow for each layer of color to be painted. The details of the aircraft are painted according to Air Force technical orders, photographs and other documentation. Insignia, USAF markings, stars and bars, and other large markings are laid out by hand, masked and painted.

After the aircraft is de-masked, all of the removed and restored pieces are reassembled and installed on the aircraft. The aircraft is then ready to join the Museums permanent collection in one of the hangars.

See Our Full Aircraft Collection

Volunteer With Our Restoration Crew

Our restoration efforts would not be possible without our dedicated team of volunteers and their hard work. The team welcomes anyone interested in helping preserve our nation’s history, no previous experience requiredjoin us in restoring dignity to the aircraft that played such a significant role in our nation’s history.  

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Plan Your Visit

The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum is open daily to the public. Come explore the wonders of flight and space with us – no reservations required.

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