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Unit's pride demonstrated by plane refurbishing

PITTSBURGH -- The F-102 Delta Dagger is one of the first aircraft guests see as they pull up to the 171st gate. A much different aircraft than the KC-135 Tankers parked on the flight line, tail number 4015 was considered the unit's "ace" during its prime years between 1961-1975.

In August 2008 the aircraft was removed from its stand and carefully towed to hangar 302 to be refurbished.

The plane was stripped of its wings, panels and paint exposing the wear from years of braving the elements.

"Seventy-five percent of the airframe was gone," said Senior Master Sgt. Dave Janiga, aircraft structural maintenance supervisor. Reskinning the aircraft took approximately two years and was by far the most difficult part of the process Janiga said.

The original skin was comprised of magnesium, according to Janiga, which caused the corrosion and golf-ball sized holes in the aircraft. The new panels are made of copper and are more durable.

In the last seven years, the aircraft structural maintenance shop has refurbished all of the static displays on base excluding the P-51 and P-40, which are Plexiglas models.
Not only is it a chance to improve the look of the base, it also is a training opportunity for the unit members on the crash recovery team. A sling to lift and move the aircraft was tested on this F-102 that can also be used for the F-22 and other small aircraft throughout the country according to Chief Master Sgt. Russ Kobaly.

"Everyone knew their job and it was safely planned out, we had safety briefs and fortunately the aircraft was level when we picked it up."

"Moving a static display allows a crash recovery team to use equipment they don't use on a regular basis," Kobaly said. "This is our opportunity when it comes to moving static displays to get hands-on training; get the aircraft in the air."

Improving the facade of the base and cementing the unit's history and heritage made the more than two-year refurbish project worthwhile for unit members and guests. Retired Brig. Gen. Pete Phillipy, former 171st Air Refueling Wing commander, flew that exact aircraft and was impressed when he saw the improvements.

"It's beautiful. They did a real good job; I'm amazed," Phillipy said. "The workmanship is just fantastic. Maintenance did a tremendous job." Phillipy has many fond memories in the F-102, but the one that stands out most to him is when he "shot down a drone with that bird," just one of the four drones in 4015's career.

In addition to ace status and great marksmanship, 4015 also won the 1963 William Tell competition. Transitioning from the F-86, Phillipy said the F-102 was a definite upgrade with supersonic capabilities. It flew straight and level.

Janiga said preserving the history of the unit is important to him and the happiness it brought to retirees that piloted the aircraft was gratifying. "We'll all be gone in 50 years, but that plane will still be there."