Air and Space Museum volunteers bring Golden Age planes back to life

Posted at 8:43 PM, Nov 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-25 08:09:21-05

SAN DIEGO -- On this Thanksgiving Day, we are thankful for those who volunteer so much of their own time to help others. 10News found a group of men and women who work for San Diego’s Air and Space Museum who prove it’s never too late to volunteer your time.

Here, in a small corner just north of Gillespie Field sits a memorial to flight.

It’s a place where the history of aviation is reimagined, restored, or reproduced for San Diego's Air and Space Museum. Work meticulously crafted by men and women with a deep appreciation for things that soar.

"I tell people I got infected by aviation a long time ago." said Ron Peterka, who’s spent almost a third of his life volunteering.

They don't do it for the money. There is no salary. All of these people are volunteers, and they do it for the love of flight.

"I come to work here and it's just like coming into a candy store every day," adds Peterka.

Some, like Peterka, build scaled down models that will hang in the museum rafters.

"This is a B-17. A World War II Bomber," explained Peterka, showing off his latest project.

Other volunteers recreate life size replicas.

"Look at it, it's ugly. It's not very aerodynamic," said Bill Jensen.

Jensen is leading a project to rebuild a Navy FB-5 from the 1920’s. He and his crew of two are working only off old blueprints and rebuilding missing parts from scratch. These are time consuming projects that take could years to reassemble.

I asked how long this project might take and, with a laugh, Jenson said at least five years. 

There is one specific trend with these volunteers - their age. 

Terry Brennan, curator and director of restoration, said the word "young" doesn't mean the same thing at the air & space museum. 

"A young volunteer here is 65 years old," Brennan said. "We have some volunteers well into their 90's."

It's ironic that planes from the Golden Age of flight, decommissioned decades ago, are brought back to life by engineers, machinists, and pilots well into their golden years.

Many of them have volunteered for decades. 

With a smile on his face, Bill Jenson proudly said he's been volunteering for 17 years. But volunteer Ron Peterka tops that - he's been volunteering for 25 years. 

In an age where younger generations spend hours on video games, in need of stimulation and with very little patience you have to wonder, is volunteering becoming a lost art?

"We're hoping that the young group is going to change their attitude a little bit by the time they're 65," Brennan said with a confident smile. “If they have willingness to volunteer, and just a little bit of ambition, and a love of aviation they're our kind of person. 65 or over."

Wondering who will carry the torch for these volunteers in the decades to come I asked: "Are you concerned about the art?”

After a slight pause to think about the question, Peterka said with a hearty laugh: “Well, at 82 I won't have too much time to deal with that."