08/01/11 — Expert: There are options for hanging planes in a museum

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Expert: There are options for hanging planes in a museum

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on August 1, 2011 1:46 PM

Although the city has said it will bide its time and examine all of its options with its newly purchased 14,000-square-foot building on Ash Street, there have been discussions all the while about turning the former bank building into an Air Force museum to honor Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the 4th Fighter Wing, complete with suspended planes.

The hanging of replica aircraft in the 2406 E. Ash St. facility was the topic of much discussion both in advance and after the structural engineer's report presented May 2, and District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick questioned engineer Jerry Hodge, who was hired by the city to perform the assessment, directly about whether the structure could withstand the weight of suspended aircraft.

Hodge's assessment, however, didn't include data on that venture, but Mark Smith of Century Aviation says his firm can provide that sort of analysis.

That's because Smith's Washington-based company specializes in aircraft restorations and replicas as well as aircraft relocation and installation.

Smith was in Goldsboro recently helping to suspend a P-51 Mustang in Seymour Johnson's Consolidated Support Center, a 43,000-square-foot facility that will replace several older buildings on the base.

But with discussions on an Air Force museum dominating council meetings since February, more suspended planes could be in Goldsboro's future.

Smith said his business also extends into model aircraft construction, which was what was considered to be the best option for suspending an F-15 in the city's building. According to 4th Fighter Wing historian Dr. Roy Heidicker, an F-15 replica would need to be half or one-third of the size of an actual fighter.

"We do work with scale models of aircraft as well. The building and suspending of them," he said.

But suspending an airplane in an existing building can be tricky, he said.

Once drawings and blueprints are made available to his firm, a full structural examination occurs to verify the building can handle the plane.

After that, his company determines if it needs supplemental steel to add to the building for support. With a plaster ceiling, as is the case with the city's building, the company would likely remove the ceiling and put in a steel grid structure to support the suspended aircraft. A plaster ceiling could be put back in over the grid to create a seamless-looking ceiling.

Another option, he said, would be to construct a false structure utilizing a girder system to hold the plane up, although he called that a "worst-case scenario."

But using a smaller replica, Smith said he didn't foresee any issues.

"Using the model, I don't see that weight is going to be an issue," he said, noting that authentic aircraft stripped for display weigh between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds, with heavier model airplanes coming in at about 2,000 pounds.

"That will take the structure issue out of the equation," he said.

As far as prices, Smith said projects range from $8,000 small operations where one plane is reassembled to a recent project in Chicago that took seven weeks and cost $250,000.