AirCorps Aviation, based in Bemidji MN, specializes in the restoration, maintenance, and rebuilding of vintage WWII aircraft.
The company was recently featured in Warbird Digest for its restoration of Lope’s Hope 3rd, a 1944 P-51C Mustang. In his article, Chuck Cravens described AirCorps perfectly, saying, “The team of 35 skilled and dedicated employees embraces a different style, and embodies a new generation of creative gatekeepers who will be entrusted with the responsibility to keep these aircraft flying for future generations.”
One such gatekeeper is SciTech intern Matt Ringlien, whose interest in WWII history and preservation started in the 4th grade.
Majoring in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Northland Community and Technical College, Ringlien joined AirCorps as a Process Improvement Intern. He moved between several departments during his internship and focused heavily on fabrication. But, he said, of all the hands-on experiences he received, the most memorable was “anytime I got to work on the P-47.”
With Ringlien’s help, AirCorps is restoring a WWII Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, a fighter-bomber salvaged from the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Restoring the plane is like solving the mystery of its past. At one point when Ringlien was cleaning out the P-47’s cooling fins, he discovered seashell particles which, he believes, implies that at least part of the plane had at some point been underwater.
But the detective work doesn’t stop there. AirCorps doesn’t just make the planes look like new. Most, if not all of its projects, are restored to working order, ready to fly again at air shows and commemorative demonstrations. To do that effectively, the team needs to find and reference the original blueprints. Oftentimes that means going back over decades-old microfilm, from pictures taken of the engineer’s drawings.
AirCorps has taken it on themselves to build a digital library of all the drawings and manuals they collect, scanning them in high quality and preserving them to “provide a system for users to share resources that will help promote, preserve, and keep WWII and legacy aircraft safely flying through the 21st century.”
To Dedicate and Inspire
Normally, planes are brought to AirCorps Aviation from owners, families and collectors. But the company is expanding, looking into excavating downed planes themselves. Most of these planes will be too severely damaged to replace, said Sara Zimmerman, a business coordinator at AirCorps, but, “It’s more about giving a respectful conclusion to the pilot’s service while giving answers to their family.”
That’s partially why AirCorps is dedicated to providing internships to students like Ringlien, she said. “Carrying on that knowledge and those skills to the next group of people who are passionate about doing the same thing is a big deal.”
AirCorps Aviation in Action
Check out the video below for a look into the AirCorps restoration process.
Small Minnesota companies receive up to $2,500 to help pay a STEM intern. At least 350 wage matches are available through August 2019.