Connecticut Air and Space Center

The Connecticut Air and Space Center located in Stratford, Connecticut, opened its doors in 1998 as a non-profit museum. Since that time, the museum has acquired many aircraft and currently they have several great additions under restoration. The museum is itself a floor to ceiling restoration project. The Connecticut Air and Space Center is a static museum that opens its doors to those who are 18 and older. The museum plans to open its doors to all members of the general public when a vintage Curtiss hangar under restoration as we speak is completed allowing families and children to visit and learn about aviation. Andrew King Director of the museum said, “If we can’t get the kids in the museum then we have to get the museum out to the kids.” It all starts with little kids who want to see aircraft, and the spark that is made when they see them, lasts a lifetime.
Restoration is no simple matter. The planes under the museum’s care date back to the first half of the last century and parts are scarce. The museum does its best to keep its planes and components as original as possible, but with the lack of spare parts in modern day, often parts must be duplicated from other existing parts or must be made from factory blue prints. In the event that parts must be new built, visitors are told this as the museum does not try to hide this fact. In addition, some of the equipment that is used to restore these planes back to original condition is also vintage. An example is the WWII era lathe that was torn down and restored to pristine condition over a summer by museum volunteers.

One of the many aircraft that the Connecticut Air and Space Center has under restoration is a Goodyear built FG1-D Corsair Bu. 92460. This corsair was built in late July of 1945, but never saw combat. It served many USMC training groups before it was put into reserves at NAS Litchfield Park. Eventually it was sold to El Salvador’s Air Force and was a part of their aerobatic team. Around 1957 this aircraft was in an accident but the extent of damage is unknown because of the lack of records. The corsair was placed in a junkyard and was a picked by a USMC Corsair pilot by the name of Nick Mainero who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during the war. He wanted to have a corsair in the area to honor the men and women of Stratford and Bridgeport Connecticut who built Corsairs during the war. When it arrived in Bridgeport, it was placed on a pole at the Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport and remained there for 37 years. In 2005 talks of getting the plane down to be restored were beginning, but different factions could not agree on what the best future of the aircraft would be. Eventually in 2008 the plane was removed from the pole and restoration soon began. The condition was worse than anyone could have anticipated. Bolts were put through the main spar and the plane was essentially rotting from the inside out. In 2010 Andrew King joined the restoration and was put in charge of the project full time, eventually becoming director of the museum. Around this same time Ed McGuinness took the position of head mechanic/engineer of the project. The center section and main spar were shipped down to Texas to Ezell Aviation. Ezell Aviation restored the main spar and the center section and fixed other parts that needed to be fixed. They saved the museum between 3-5 years of work. Ezell Aviation did $190,000 worth of work in one year. This work was donated to the museum by the owner of the Brewster Corsair project. It has since been shipped back to Connecticut, it is currently being re-assembled by Ed McGuinness and Mark Corvino.

“The Corsair is a static restoration, being a gift from the President El Salvador to the City of Bridgeport.” It will be a tribute to the men and women of Stratford and Bridgeport who were devoted to the war effort. Along with Ezell Aviation, many other mostly local people have donated to the project so that it can be finished and displayed. The museum is currently in collaboration with other corsair restorations, including the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s newly acquired race #94 corsair. Parts are being traded back and forth so that they can be duplicated and replace parts on the plane that are beyond repair. New landing gear and the tail gear where donated by Howard Purdue, who did restorations of corsairs and sold parts. He was killed tragically in an accident in his Grumman Bearcat. The restoration is on-going with 6 full time volunteers who work on it 2-3 days per week, and progress is ongoing. Andrew King, Director of the museum projects, says that the “restoration will be completed by 2015”. Currently over $250,000 is invested in the restoration of the corsair. If there were not volunteers working on the plane, costs would be about 1.5 million dollars.

The next major restoration project that the museum is working is an S-60 Skycrane, prototype which was built by Sikorsky in 1957 and first flew in 1958. This helicopter is very historically significant being that it is a prototype and that it is the last aircraft that Sikorsky personally worked on. This helicopter did everything that Sikorsky wanted, but lacked power and lifting capacity. In 1960 turbines were instated which gave the S-60 four times the lifting power. In 1961 it was involved in an accident with NASA on takeoff. NASA changed the control systems and they became too sensitive and the helicopter rolled over and was practically destroyed. Director of the Connecticut Air and Space Center, Andrew King, offered this comparison, “every time that the pilot moved the stick two inches, it was like he was moving it two feet!”. After the investigation of the crash, Sikorsky gave it to the New England Air Museum (NEAM) in the hope that it could be restored. It sat in NEAM’s storage facility for almost 50 years. Eventually NEAM decided that they would dispose of the airframe as they had no interest in restoring the S-60. It was acquired by the Connecticut Air and Space Center (CASC). The restoration began in 2010 and currently the tail fuselage has been put back together but still must be skinned, the cockpit is 75 percent complete, and there is one spar left that still needs to be restored. This project is a massive undertaking as the helicopter is 90 feet long and has a rotor span of 80 feet long. When the S-60 was picked up from NEAM it was missing the tail section. This is likely because when a tornado hit NEAM in 1979 the tail was in bad condition and was scrapped. The CASC must now rebuild the 17 feet tall tail section from scratch. When finished, it will hold nearly 850 pounds of tail rotors and transmissions. Even though the museum has blueprints, it will still be quite difficult to do. Director Andrew King said that “$6,000 worth of aluminum will be used in the reconstruction of the tail”. The estimated completion date of the S-60 is 2017 because currently they do not have a hangar large enough to house the helicopter during reassembly.

Restoration of a T2V-1/F-1 Sea Star which is the USMC version of the T-33 Shooting Star is also underway. The restoration is being carried out by Dave Phipps who is a former crew chief of a T-33 in the late 1950’s. CASC also has a Sikorsky H-19 helicopter which needs a fresh coat of paint before it will be out on display. In addition, they have two Korean War Sikorsky H05S helicopters. One is being restored for the USMC and the other for their own display. The H05S that the museum is restoring saw combat in the Korean War. The museum’s H05S started with just the cab of the helicopter and pats are being duplicated off of the USMC H05S, to make it a complete airframe. The CASC has been duplicating parts off of the USMC H05S for nearly 8 years. Anything that was not part of the cab section must be made from scratch. There were only 90 of these built and only 10 that survive today, most of which are in museums.

The last aircraft that they have under restoration is a T-38 Talon which is a trainer jet that is still in service today. It was gifted to CASC by AMARC via the GSA, which is an aircraft storage and repurposing facility. In the past couple of months work has been done on the cockpit. When it came from AMARC it was missing an instrument panel and also the nose gear. Nose gears are often missing because, as a trainer jet that is still being used today, they are taken off when they are put in storage because the tough beating that these jets take on landings. A new nose gear will be made and the T-38 will be put on display in the near future.
The volunteers that work at the museum consist of former Sikorsky machinist, workers from Lycoming, and other walks of life. The CASC currently have about 45-50 active volunteers and about 15 of them are at the museum working two days or more a week. Many of the volunteers are retirees in there 70’s and early 80’s. The CASC does not employ anyone, so everyone is a volunteer. Even with the number of people and the fact that they are volunteers the restorations are long and expensive. Director Andrew King said, “For every 1,000 people I talk to 300 people visit the museum, out of the 300 I get 1 volunteer. 1 out of every 1,000 people. Over the course of a year only about 1-2 of the volunteers who join stay, because its hard work and not glamorous like people think.
On January 25, 2014 the museum will be hosting a big display, to gain awareness. A local brewery in Stratford, Connecticut has dedicated a beer to the S-60 and call it “Igor’s Dream”. Although the CASC will not receive any of the proceeds from the brewery they will be accepting donations, so make sure you donate to keep restorations underway. The museum relies on donations and volunteers, don’t be afraid to help out.

For more information about the museum or to donate/ volunteer please contact Andrew King, Director of the Connecticut Air and Space Museum
Email: director@ctairandspace.org
Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ctairandspace
Website: http://cascstratford.wordpress.com/

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