During the 1950’s and early 60’s, the skies over Cheyenne would rumble with the sounds of T-33 Shooting Star jet trainer aircraft.
Above the open prairies, rocky outcroppings and rising mountains, the silver streaks of speed were handled by Wyoming Air National Guard pilots on missions to improve their flying and tactical capabilities.
Today that is no longer the case. The C-130 Hercules soars through the skies now. But sitting in a corner of the Wyoming Air Guard’s airfield is a T-33, no longer flying, instead used for static displays at events. Wyoming’s weather had worn the aircraft’s once pristine appearance down. There is no engine in it. No electronic controls. Just a shell with hail damage, faded paint and a silver skin that lost its shimmer decades ago.
Recently, Master Sgt. Michael Konegni of the Aircraft Structural Maintenance Section, 153rd Maintenance Squadron, 153rd Airlift Wing put his team on the job of restoring the T-33’s appearance.
“We dressed it up and restored it,” Konegni said. “We brightened her up, buffed the oxidation out. Did a lot of work to make it shine.”
Sitting in Building 16’s hangar, the T-33 almost glowed, with a fresh coat of paint and polish on its sheet metal. A mixed team of full-time maintenance and drill status guardsmen put over two weeks of time and effort to make the aircraft look new. Fiberglass had to be replaced and wheels found to replace dry rotted tires.
“We spent a week cleaning, sanding and painting, then another week to buff the whole aircraft,” Konegni said. “The last time this aircraft was restored was 1990, so there was a lot to buff.”
Records showed that the particular aircraft was manufactured in 1956 and came to Wyoming from Michigan, but it’s time in the service was not known. Some of the cleaning involved removing animal infestations that were in the aircraft, which weren’t discovered until after the aircraft rolled into the hangar.
“We had a bees nest on the tail of the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Sauls. “I was up on the tail buffing and they just started flying out.” The team had to halt the restoring project while the pests were neutralized. But that wasn’t the only close call with nature. “We found a raccoon’s nest underneath too,” Sauls said. Luckily there was no animal.
Once the pests were controlled, Sauls was able to put in the time to polish the sheet metal.
“It took a week polishing with three guys, all by hand,” he said. “We tried a polish wheel, but it left marks, so we went to doing it with our own hands. There was a lot to polish.” Most of the aircraft is silver sheet metal, so that team polished almost the entire body of the aircraft.
The final touches was printing stickers that could be applied for the Wyoming bucking horse logo. A member of the team researched the design on the T-33 in old photos, then designed a similar logo and printed it for application. Once placed, it was the last step in buffing the beautiful training jet to its former elegance.
“It was a fun project,” said Tech Sgt. Kyle Kraft, his face mirrored in the reflection of the T-33.
Next up for the aircraft is the 153rd’s upcoming Christmas party in December where it will put on display. Then it’ll be put back in storage to be used again. Not to fly, no those days are gone, but to be displayed so the days of jets flying over Cheyenne can be remembered.