Kadena air park restoration saves Air Force heritage, dollars

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sebastian Romawac
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan – Working with a local business, Team Kadena preserved an irreplaceable piece of Air Force history and saved approximately half a million dollars in the process as it accomplished a six-month restoration of Kadena Air Base’s air park.

Located near the main gate, Kadena’s air park consists of aircraft including an F-15A Eagle, F-4C Phantom, F-86F Sabre, F-105 Thunderchief, F-100 Super Sabre, T-33A Shooting Star and CT-39A Sabreliner.

This diverse collection of aircraft has gradually accumulated since the park was founded in July 1985, but the years began to take their toll as the displays weathered the humid and corrosive environment of Okinawa.

By 2021, the static display aircraft were plagued with rust and holes within their structures which posed a significant safety risk. Due to their poor condition, these aircraft were slated to be dismantled and replaced with sub-scale fiberglass models.

The estimated cost to demolish the aircraft and build these models would have been approximately $1 million, but this plan didn’t sit right with some.

“Model aircraft don’t tell history like the actual aircraft do,” said James D’Angina, 18th Wing historian. “Some of these aircraft date back to the Korean War. They were flown by real pilots and worked on by real crew chiefs. These aircraft hold stories within them that model aircraft just do not.”

These aircraft indeed carry with them stories from the 18th Wing’s history, to include the F-86F, flown by U.S. Air Force Col. (Ret.) James Hagerstrom, a combat fighter pilot with a career total of 14.5 victories who also served as the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron commander.

These planes also represent a broader legacy of Air Force heritage. For example, the F-100 on display is the very first production model of the Super Sabre ever built, making it a priceless example of America’s first supersonic jet fighter.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. David Eaglin, 18th Wing commander, shared D’Angina’s sentiments and sought to preserve the historic aircraft after he heard of the original disposal plan.

“Losing our historic air park was never an option for me,” said Eaglin. “Those aircraft are important reminders of Kadena’s proud tradition of delivering air power in this vital region. It inspires Airmen to carry on that legacy, and to apply lessons of the past into our mission today.”

With that, Kadena promptly pivoted efforts away from the costly destruction of the aircraft, and instead, toward their recovery and restoration.

After researching options, the restoration of the air park was estimated to cost approximately $500,000, half the estimated price to demolish and replace the existing displays.

After a routine contract bidding process, Kadena awarded a contract to restore and preserve the airpark to MRO Japan Corporation, a local Okinawan aviation maintenance company, on Sept. 16, 2022.

“This contract preserved a priceless collection of Air Force heritage and ended up saving us approximately half a million dollars in the process. Furthermore, we were able to positively impact the local Okinawan economy with this important project,” said Eaglin. “This success rests on the shoulders of our outstanding contracting and comptroller squadrons as well as our dedicated historian office.”

With that, the contractors set about repairing, sanding, priming, and painting the display aircraft. Throughout the process, they worked with D’Angina to ensure their refurbishment resulted in painstakingly accurate representations of these venerable aircraft as they looked in their prime.   

The project spanned from in October 2022 to late March 2023 resulting in a world-class showcase of aircraft spanning the decades of Kadena Air Base’s storied history.

For years to come, these pristine aircraft will welcome base residents and guests, reminding all who come to the Keystone of the Pacific that they are entering a base with a proud legacy of delivering airpower.