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Bringing to life the ORANG 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle

Members of the173rd Maintenance Structural shop apply a vinyl wrap of the Oregon Air National Guard patch to the commemorative ORANG 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

Members of the173rd Maintenance Structural shop apply a vinyl wrap of the Oregon Air National Guard patch to the commemorative ORANG 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

An Airman from the structural shop sands down the black paint after initial tests showed it did not adhere properly to the aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

An Airman from the structural shop sands down the black paint after initial tests showed it did not adhere properly to the aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

Airmen from the 173rd Maintenance Structural shop touch up the nose stencil of the screaming eagle on the ORANG 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

Airmen from the 173rd Maintenance Structural shop touch up the nose stencil of the screaming eagle on the ORANG 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing tow the Oregon Air National Guard 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle into the hangar.  The wing was granted a waiver to paint the jet in the screaming eagle design to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the ORANG. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing tow the Oregon Air National Guard 75th Anniversary F-15 Eagle into the hangar. The wing was granted a waiver to paint the jet in the screaming eagle design to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the ORANG. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- The idea started with Col. Jeff Smith in November, when he was the maintenance group commander; he asked if anyone had ideas for a paint scheme to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Oregon Air National Guard. Master Sgt. Paul Allen submitted a nice, albeit small, design for the vertical tail surfaces.

Smith says he looked at the design and said, "the 75th only happens once so you can go "big" on this one." Armed with a new sense of carte blanche, Allen created plans for a tip-to-tail scheme that is what you see on the aircraft today.

The design was ambitious as well as the timeline for completion.

Allen says he even took a phone call from paint shop supervisors at other units saying, "'hey, your design isn't realistic....'"

The project itself was a journey into the unknown--how it would come together, how a team of volunteers could bring it to fruition, and the funding all remained just over the horizon.

Initially the project slid smoothly into gear. Stencils arrived from a new printer looking sharp, specialty automotive paint arrived and the surface lay prepped to accept the first coat of paint. Then disaster struck.  Allen remembers laying a stencil atop the first layer of black paint and when he lifted it up it took a huge swath of paint with it, leaving a ragged bare patch. The paint was dry, but it hadn't adhered to the surface.

"I remember these eight guys looking at me and I didn't know what to do, I actually felt a little sick like I might pass out," said Allen.

They had sprayed six gallons of expensive black paint on the top and bottom of the jet, and it was all going to have to be removed taking weeks, not to mention money to fix. He figured in that moment the project was most likely dead--there was really no way to salvage it.

None-the-less, it was too early to order a retreat and the only option was to start searching for a solution. The solution to the problem involved phone calls to the vendor, an intimate understanding of the science behind the specialty paint they were using, and a very detailed picture of temperature and humidity variations in their paint booth throughout the course of a day. What they discovered were temperature variations in their paint booth due to uncontrollable factors--needing to constantly open and close doors to keep oxygen levels safe for workers, and a natural variation in building temperatures of more than 20-degrees.

"At one point we were all walking around with laser thermometers testing the temperature in every corner of the place," said Allen.

Further complicating matters was the heat in the facility was turned off when it was unoccupied. Something that simply makes good sense for most every building on base, except one where paint is curing that requires a bare 10-degree temperature variation.

Allen says the fight to get past paint delamination represented the crux of the project, and once they climbed that obstacle the rest of the project was simply up to hard work to regain lost time and lots of extra hours on evenings and weekends.

"We did it out of hide," he said.

They also got some help along the way.

"I remember Chief Dean coming down there and working for an entire day, just sanding on a wing to help us get past the hump," said Senior Airman Badner.

The idea was to have it ready to unveil for the change of command ceremony scheduled for April 3 and with the jet towed into the hangar bay Allen and his team remained at work, racing to the finish even as the change of command rehearsal took place alongside them.

While he stood in the hangar watching Airmen take cell phone videos and selfies, and high-fiving each other, he reflected on the underlying reason for taking on such a big project.

"By taking on this large project we all got stretched, we all got experience that we can't get in the day-to-day flying mission and we all learned a lot," said Allen. "When it's time to move up and take on more responsibility this project helps prepare all of us for that, we know we can take on a big job, we can own our mistakes, trouble-shoot problems and get it done, and that's a huge benefit for my people."

In thinking back over the last two months he says, "I get goose bumps when I look at this jet right now, other people have said that to me, but they don't understand the reason I get them is because of the worry and the stress--wondering if we could really do it."