STANDING PROUD - PART II
In the early morning of August 7, 2015, aircraft N948TW departed the Roswell International Air Center, New Mexico. This was no ordinary flight, as the aircraft carried TWA's livery, which had not been seen on an airplane since TWA operated its last flight in 2001. Waiting for it at the Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri was a crowd of 150 invited guests, including city officials, members of the media, friends and staff of our museum, and a special group of people who had spent over two years working and preparing for this day. The "Wings of Pride" was coming home.
"It took my breath away"
TWA Museum director Pam Blaschum remembers the day clearly. "Kerry came to the museum and pointed to a model we have of the Wings of Pride. He told me American was putting down their fleet of MD-80s and that he was going to try to get that plane. I wished him luck, but I really wondered if he could do it." He did. A few weeks later he asked Pam to meet him at a hangar at Kansas City International Airport. What she found there "took my breath away," recalls Pam. "There it was. This huge American MD-83. I couldn't believe it. He got the Wings of Pride!"
The "Kerry" Pam refers to is Kerry Floyd, President of TriStar History and Preservation, a Kansas City-based non-profit organization. Founded in 2013 and doing business as TriStar Experience, the organization was established with the goals of inspiring young people to develop an interest and consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), including pursuing studies in aviation and aerospace. Kerry had plans for the Wings of Pride to help meet these goals and felt the TWA Museum would make a most fitting home for it. So begins the story of how the Wings of Pride would make its journey to our museum, as well as the special partnership between TriStar and our museum. That partnership continues to evolve and grow, benefiting both organizations, museum visitors and the Kansas City community.
The first thing you notice about Kerry is a passion for the work his organization does. He believes something magical can happen when a young person gets close to an airplane and starts to see what it's about. TriStar calls it that "aha" moment, when a spark can ignite a dream, a career goal or even a life goal. Unfortunately, not all young people have the means or opportunity for this to occur. Kerry believes that, "every kid should have the chance to have that moment. That's the start of what we do." You should also know that Kerry is a pretty modest guy and made it a point to our guide that this story is to be about the Wings of Pride and TriStar... not him. Still, we think there are some things you should know about Kerry. His dad had a 38-year career with TWA as a maintenance manager in San Francisco. In addition to having that attachment to TWA, Kerry is also a proud Kansas Citian and feels TriStar's work is important to the community and TWA's shared history with Kansas City. A retired telecom executive, he used his business experience and contacts to start and initially fund TriStar. His confident and easy-going manner might make it appear that his work isn't all that hard. Not so! You'll quickly see why, as you read the incredible story of the re-birth of the Wings of Pride.
|The former Wings of Pride (N948TW) while flying for American Airlines, approaching Philadelphia in 2013. |
(photo courtesy of Conor Clancy: www.connorclancyphoto.com)
In 2013, TriStar learned that American Airlines' program to retire its MD-80 series fleet would soon reach aircraft N948TW. TWA had flown this aircraft as the Wings of Pride prior to American's acquisition in 2001. Negotiations with the plane's owner/lessor, GE Capital Aviation Services, resulted in an agreement that upon American's return of the aircraft to the lessor in July 2014, the aircraft would be sold to TriStar. Kerry says, "The agreement was that GECAS got to keep the engines, so we got a good deal on the airplane." Fortunately, GECAS allowed the engines to remain on the plane for its August 2014 flight from American's aircraft retirement facility in Roswell, New Mexico to TriStar's headquarters at Kansas City International Airport (MCI). Shortly thereafter, GECAS claimed its engines and there stood the former Wings of Pride, quietly in a hangar complete with American Airlines livery and no engines. It was time for Kerry and his team at TriStar to roll up their sleeves and take some action. And that they did!
Time For a Transformation
It's no secret that acquiring a working commercial jetliner and keeping it airworthy is neither easy nor inexpensive. An aggressive fund raising campaign, cooperation of many businesses/organizations and the time and skills of many dedicated individuals started the wheels turning at TriStar. By late 2014, N948TW began its transformation. In October, a mechanical analysis was performed to establish a maintenance baseline. A month later, the initial phase of changing it back into the Wings of Pride began with the process of stripping the American Airlines graphics from its exterior.
|N948TW in its hangar at MCI, during early stages of the transformation.|
Work accelerated in January 2015, as two JT8D engines were acquired from TriStar's new friends at C & G Engines, in Miami. The engines were thoroughly inspected, installed and tested. By early spring, engine runs and taxi tests were underway. Additional maintenance and further preparation for fuselage repainting took place and the aircraft was soon ready to take a trip. In June, N948TW took to the skies again, on its way back to Roswell. Unlike its last trip with American Airlines to be retired, this one was for a face-lift! The Wings of Pride was getting its old TWA identity back and a new lease on life.
|Installation of the newly-acquired engines. A major step in the transformation..|
Painting an airplane is a BIG deal... even bigger when the design scheme and graphics have not been applied to an airplane in over twenty years. To meet that challenge, TriStar called upon Milo Raub. Trained as an aeronautical engineer, Milo had an extraordinary 31-year career with TWA. Combining his engineering skills and artistic abilities, he spent part of his career working on the technical design of TWA's fleet paint schemes. Milo describes how the original Wings of Pride paint scheme was developed. "When a special scheme for the 'employee airplane' came down from corporate, it was easy to suggest reversing the colors. This would allow use of the existing paint patterns and minimize extra time and expenditure." Fast forward to 2014 and Milo's expertise was again requested, this time by TriStar. Using old files and photographs, Milo reproduced the exact artwork for the Wings of Pride paint scheme and sent his renderings to a company in Tennessee. There, full-sized die-cut masking patterns were produced and then shipped to Roswell. It should also be noted that Milo's career at TWA included extensive work in the engineering of cabin interior equipment. Milo's efforts for TriStar continue in that direction, as he is currently designing a new all first-class cabin arrangement for the Wings of Pride (the new seats are a story within themselves! We'll tell you about them later). A good friend of our museum, Milo has added yet another facet to our great partnership with TriStar.
When it came to obtaining the paint, TriStar insisted that the red color used be a precise match to the original. To be certain of that, the Sterling Lacquer Company in St. Louis was contacted. Sterling had supplied paint to TWA from the dawn of the jet age. Upon hearing of TriStar's project, Sterling's CEO, Leo Mitchell, generously donated the paint. Finally, waiting for N948TW's arrival in Roswell were the employees of Dean Baldwin Painting. After being approached by TriStar, Baldwin's owner, Barbara Baldwin, and its president, Rick Smith, were on board. Again, admiration of TriStar's mission and an acknowledgment of TWA's great history were displayed as Baldwin Painting agreed to provide a top-of-the-line paint application for the Wings of Pride, at a nominal cost to TriStar. And that is how it's done! The result of all these efforts? Amazing, as seen in the photo below.
|A sunny day pays a high compliment to everyone involved in the effort to repaint the Wings of Pride|
Well, time for our guide to take one of his many lengthy breaks (management is working on this problem with him, but progress is slow). On the positive side, this gives you the opportunity to watch an incredible time-lapse video of the painting of the Wings of Pride. The graphic stripping and preparation work (including engine installation) were done in Kansas City, while the actual painting took place in Roswell. There's more to tell, so come on back when you're done watching. Enjoy:
Time to Come Home
Less than an hour after rolling out of the paint shop in Roswell, pictures of the Wings of Pride were being circulated over the web. From compliments ("That paint looks great.") to wishful questions ("Is TWA back?"), aviation enthusiasts and fans of TWA took notice. Looking bright, shiny and proudly red, the Wings of Pride was ready to head to its new home in Kansas City at Wheeler Downtown Airport and our museum. Everyone involved viewed this as a truly momentous occasion. This recognition extended to the selection of the crew to fly the aircraft back to Kansas City. TriStar called upon Mike Barron to serve as captain and his father, John, flew as his first officer. Mike's a former TWA and current American Airlines pilot, while John is a retired TWA pilot. Several years earlier, both flew at the same time for TWA and managed to fly occasional trips together, with John in the captain's seat and Mike his co-pilot. This "role reversal" for the Wings of Pride flight added yet another special meaning to the event. To keep it all in the family, Mike's son, Dillon, joined the crowd waiting in Kansas City. And you guessed it; Dillon aspires to be an airline pilot as well. On August 7, 2015, the Wings of Pride lifted off from Roswell heading northeast to Kansas City.
Air traffic controllers in the tower at Kansas City International Airport were likely the first to recognize the Wings of Pride as it descended over town. Approach controllers, aware of this special occasion, had routed the aircraft to fly over MCI, giving personnel in the tower a good view of it. As it turned south, heading to the Downtown Airport, residents of Kansas City's northern suburbs likely did a double-take, as the sight of a TWA aircraft flying overhead in Kansas City had not been seen for almost fourteen years. At the Downtown Airport, there was no mystery about it. Anticipation turned to sheer excitement as the Wings of Pride made a picture-perfect landing and taxied toward Hangar 1, adjacent to the TWA Museum. There were cheers, applause and tears as the plane was towed into the hangar. Our guide will step back for a moment and let the following video do the talking:
"A synergistic relationship"
While chatting with Kerry Floyd, our guide was interested in the unique relationship TriStar shares with the TWA Museum. In Kerry's words, "It's a synergistic relationship of like-minded people." To put that into terms our guide can specifically relate to, members of both organizations operate on the same foundation. We are passionate about commercial aviation (and TWA's role in that history) and we genuinely enjoy sharing that passion and inspiring others with it. That was further evident when our guide had a chance to speak with Joe Shost (TriStar's Director of Maintenance) and Joe Tomczuk (Director of Quality). Former TWA maintenance technicians (Joe Shost retired from TWA after a 43-year career!), they are responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the Wings of Pride. An operational aircraft, it requires monthly checks of all its systems (as well as removal of the occasional bird's nest!). Both Joe T. and Joe S. stop by the museum often. Our "extended" TriStar family also includes Mike Saxton (TriStar Vice President and co-founder) and W.D. Van Wormer (TriStar's Chief Pilot). We should also acknowledge those who worked for or assisted TriStar with the transformation: Jim Ball, Denny Hamlin, Wes Wendt, Bob Slocum, Mark Grand, Dennis Tinkham, Mark Messer and Rod Hamilton. Also to be thanked for its contribution to this effort is Jet Midwest, which provided hangar space for the Wings of Pride when it resided at MCI.
The Inside Story
As amazing as the Wings of Pride looks today, there is still work to be done. When current visitors enter the Wings of Pride, they notice an American Airlines first-and coach-class seat interior exactly as it appeared when American flew N948TW's final flight in July 2014. That's going to change, as the entire cabin will be reconfigured with all first class seating. Staying true to TWA's history, the seats will be upholstered in the familiar navy blue fabric with the distinctive cranberry and silver stripe in the middle. Lantal Fabric in North Carolina will be providing the material, at a special cost to TriStar.
On the operational side, TriStar's technical staff is working with the FAA to obtain certification in order to fly the airplane to airshows (imagine the sight of the Wings of Pride at several places around the country!). As mentioned in Part I of our story, TriStar is also anticipating making the Wings of Pride available to other non-profit organizations for charter activity. "Honor Flights" to transport veterans to Washington, DC are included in those plans.
Get to Know TriStar
Our guide would like all of you to get to know more about TriStar and the work they do. You are encouraged to visit their website, www.tristarexperience.org. You'll see more of the aircraft they own and the great work they do with several other aviation-related organizations, including the University of Central Missouri Aviation Studies Department, the Black Pilots of America, youth groups in the Kansas City area and several STEM-related education programs. While TriStar itself is not a museum, owning aircraft is an important part of fulfilling their mission, which is concise and to the point: "Inspiring greater achievement though higher altitude". We're pleased to provide the venue for the Wings of Pride and to partner with them in achieving that mission.
TriStar also offers unique opportunities to help support their efforts. One such opportunity is available to those who would like to be a part of the Wings of Pride restoration. In exchange for a specified donation, TriStar will affix a nameplate to one of the new first-class seats, soon to be installed. Another option is to have a nameplate affixed to the "Donor Wall", situated at the front cabin bulkhead. Details of this program can be located at http://tristarexperience.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/TriStar-Wings-of-Pride-Legacy-Fundraiser-Revised.pdf. It is the support and generosity of our friends that allow both TriStar and our museum to operate and fulfill our missions.
|Photo courtesy of TriStar Experience|
Revisiting Part I
If you have not yet read Part I of this article, there's a link at the end of this article, so check it out. Part 1 recounts the significance and history of the Wings of Pride and its day-to-day life at our museum. Part I also contains the "hows and whens" of visiting the aircraft at our museum. Speaking of Part I, we received comments from former TWA employees relating in several ways to the Wings of Pride. One note came from Bob Willcutts, a retired Captain who flew the aircraft in its days with TWA. In Bob's words, "I flew this particular aircraft several times, and it always drewattention from everyone - passengers, ramp services, tower and any one else who saw the reversed colors. All of us who contributed to this "sponsorship" were proud of TWA and we were happy to be able to show it in a provocative way." Bob also sent a picture of him standing next to the Wings of Pride, in 1995. We thought everyone would enjoy Bob's picture as well as a picture taken from a similar angle, as the airplane stands at our museum today.
We heard from other former employees who also contributed to Wings of Pride sponsorship. Former Flight Attendant (and museum volunteer) Janet Lhullier showed us the "thank you" kit TWA mailed to those employees. It included a lithograph of the aircraft, a letter of thanks from (then) TWA President Jeffrey Erickson and a lapel pin (picture below). Thanks to Bob, Janet and everyone who offered feedback about Part I.
On a Final Note
After reading the draft of this article, Milo Raub sent our guide an email with some additional comments. He ended his note by saying, "It is a privilege to participate in the restoration of this great airplane. I am looking forward to further support for the museum and TriStar." A perfect sentiment to end our story. It has also been our privilege to tell you the story of the Wings of Pride. It's good to have it back home.
Article written by Wayne Hammer
Additional material provided by Milo Raub
Special thanks to Kerry Floyd and the people of TriStar for their cooperation.
Article edited by Larry Dingman
Copy edited by Pam Tucker
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