Thursday, March 24, 2016

Big River Aviation Gives a Little TLC to St. Louis Science Center Blue Angels Hornet On Display

By Carmelo Turdo
Spring has sprung in the Midwest, and it is time once again to feature the many aircraft on display in our region.  One of these is the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B Hornet, former U.S. Navy Blue Angels No.7, that has been on display at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium of the St. Louis Science Center for over four years.  It was dedicated in December of 2011, and has since posed majestically facing the iconic St. Louis structure.  The aircraft was loaned to the St. Louis Science Center from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL a short time after retirement, and retains the authentic markings of the 2008 season of the famous airshow favorite performers.  The aircraft, made in St. Louis in 1983, is the first installment of a planned air park dedicated to McDonnell Douglas jets which will include an F-15 Eagle now undergoing restoration prior to installation nearby.   

As spring approached this year, it was again time to inspect the aircraft and address any condition issues that may present themselves.  Big River Aviation, based at St. Louis Regional Airport in East Alton, IL was chosen to do the inspection and any repairs needed to keep the aircraft attractive and well-preserved for the enjoyment of the nearly one million people who visit the St. Louis Science Center each year.  The Aero Experience was there to meet with Big River Aviation owner Paul Voorhees and his assistant, A&P mechanic Sergio Sandoval, as they worked on the aircraft Wednesday.  Voorhees, a former U.S. Marine Corps aviation maintenance technician on McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and F/A-18 Hornet jets, was back in his element.  

The inspection found the usual items, such as residual hydraulic fluid stains and general debris from the unpredictable Midwest weather.  There was also the normal evidence of bird nesting and some paint peeling on top of the left outer wing panel.  Overall, nothing alarming.  "I was pleasantly surprised that there was not more bird activity considering the number of openings built into the aircraft's structure," Voorhees said.  "There is some painting to be done on top of the left wing, but the Science Center has plenty of the proper paint mix so it will turn out just fine," he added.  The nose wheel well did reveal a message for posterity from the final crew of the aircraft:

The first step, and the most time-consuming, was a thorough power-wash and degreasing of the aircraft and the custom pedestal on which it sits.  Voorhees and Sandoval took turns with the sprayer, and Voorhees continued to inspect the aircraft as it was cleaned.  Brush and grease-cutting solution also came in handy to address stubborn spots.  No other serious paint or decal condition issues were found.

The next step was the touch-up paint job needed for the upper left wing outer panel.  The carbon fiber panel was beginning to show and so it was imperative to get it painted before any harm to the surface occurred.  So the paint and epoxy mixer were blended, and Voorhees was on the aircraft with tray and roller in hand.  Having some extra paint, he also did some touch-up work on the vertical stabilizers as well.

(Paul Voorhees photo)


The Blue Angels Hornet is now clean and pained, shining in the sun as a dedication of thanks to members of the U.S. Navy and other military services and as a monument to St. Louis aviation:

Special thanks to the St. Louis Science Center and Big River Aviation for their hospitality and assistance to The Aero Experience in covering this story.

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