All of us here at WarbirdsNews can remember how we became involved in vintage aviation. Each of us developed an overriding passion for flight and its history from an early age. Going to air shows or museums was always a highlight in childhood, but unlike the lucky few whose families were already involved in the field, getting hands-on with these beautiful aircraft seemed like an unreachable dream in those days. We could look, but not touch. The truth is though that most museums, and indeed many warbird owners, are always looking for help with something. So all you have to do is reach out and volunteer. Not everyone will say yes, but many will give you a chance to lend a hand. You will likely have to start with grunt work… sweeping and polishing and carrying… but with the right attitude and attention to detail, a bond will begin, and you will find yourself involved in ways you might never have imagined, while playing an important role in preserving history.
Vintage Aviation needs volunteers. That is why we thought the following story by Airman 1st Class Alexis Christian showing how one man rose from volunteer to assistant museum director at the Peterson Air & Space Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado might spark interest in some of our readers to get out and get involved…
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — History lives in more than just books, it lives in objects and people as well. Walking past a historic display, seeing an old photo, the stories and emotions this invokes can be pulled to the surface.
A piece of history located on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, that helped steer Jeffery Nash, Edward J. Peterson Air and Space Museum assistant director, toward his career in museum curating. After years of working on Peterson AFB as active duty and as a civilian, one project reminded him of his passions and pushed him to this new step in life.
When the museum decided to restore the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in August 2000, Nash saw this as his chance to volunteer with something that he was passionate about.
“The P-47 has been a personal favorite of mine,” said Nash. “I grew up going to aviation museums and reading all these books. I had a tremendous interest in World War II era planes.”
The P-47 was one of the premier aircraft of World War II, fighting in almost every theater. The survivability of the fighter gave it a reputation of ruggedness, according to the National Museum of the Air Force.
When Nash went up to the then assistant director of the museum and asked if they needed any volunteers for the project, he was accepted on the spot, no experience required.
“I had very minimal skills, but I was willing to do anything I could to help,” said Nash. “I saw this as a great opportunity to get some experience and really put my hands on history.”
For Nash, plane restorations were not an easy thing to accomplish – it can get quite messy.
“My first major job in the restoration was cleaning the engine,” said Nash. “That was a dirty job. It was pretty intact, not functional, but still impressive. I was pressure washing, scraping and putting in a lot of elbow grease to remove 30 years of debris from this engine.”
Cleaning the engine alone took almost two weeks. The restoration itself took a little less than five years, and more than 5,000 combined volunteer hours, said Nash.
“I gave up a lot of off duty hours helping to restore the aircraft to what it looks like today,” said Nash.
It’s a very in-depth job, said Nash, adding that volunteers replaced tubes and panels, pressure washed and did a lot of corrosion control on the aircraft trying to get it where it is now. To him it was worth it.
“It’s a highlight of the museum really,” said Nash. “Visitors love it, almost every group wants a photo in front of it.”
Working on this restoration wasn’t just a hobby for Nash, through the years he worked on the plane, it became much more.
In the summer of 2000 the 21st Space Wing authorized a full time position for the assistant director.
“I was working in the command post at the time as a civilian doing the same job I did in the Air Force before I retired,” said Nash. “I decided it was time for a change, so I applied for the position.”
Nash, who has a bachelor’s degree in history that he got just for fun, said he was beyond happy when he received the position.
“To be the assistant director was a dream job to me,” said Nash. “I saw this as something that I could do for a long time.”
Now, Nash gets to be a part of history every day.
“I have a lot more than a P-47 to take care of now,” said Nash. “I’ve got 18 aircraft, five missiles and over 4,000 artifacts that range in size from four-engine aircraft outside to a compass the size of a thumbnail.”
All of these added responsibilities don’t bother Nash, he said. Each day is another day surrounded by his passion, as he continues to preserve history and share its stories with visitors in the museum.
Volunteer opportunities can be found around the base, but the museum is still in need of more docents to provide tours for the 20,000 visitors that visit the museum annually, said Nash.
Museum hours of operations and contact information can be found at Petemuseum.org.
While Jeffery Nash was retired military before he got involved with volunteering at the Peterson Air & Space Museum, you can be almost any age to volunteer, and from any background… so if you want to get involved too, why wait? Do a little research, and find out what historical aviation gems are in your region…. then get to work on getting involved. Volunteering matters!