From an original article published on NAVAIR News

Early in May the Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) technicians had a rare opportunity to restore a piece of aviation history for display at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

As an aviation maintenance, repair, and overhaul facility, FRCE’s Aircraft Clean and Paint shops prime and paint each aircraft that passes through. This time, however, artisans had the chance to “travel back in time” by restoring a retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk—a platform not serviced by the depot in over 20 years—to its former glory.

Having been in an aircraft storage facility for many years, the retired A-4M Skyhawk was in need of repair upon arrival at Fleet Readiness Center East.

For many FRCE artisans, including aircraft painter Kirby Mills, working on the A-4 was a first. The Navy retired its last A-4 Skyhawk in 2003, 21 years ago. “I’ve done a few restorations for display aircraft, but this is the first A-4 I’ve seen come through here,” said Mills. “I had never worked on an A-4 before. It was very neat and it’s nice to see it put to use.”

Although this was the depot’s first time restoring an A-4 Skyhawk for historical display, FRCE had previously performed maintenance on A-4s from 1989-1996 before the platform’s retirement.

Fleet Readiness Center East Aircraft Paint Shop artisans prepare the historic Douglas A-4M Skyhawk for a fresh coat of paint by sanding the surface to remove any old paint.

Stephen T. Gurley, the Fleet Support Team’s Critical Item Management Team branch head at FRCE, felt nostalgic seeing an A-4 back at the depot. “The A-4 platform was the first aircraft I worked on at FRC East in 1991, and I spent a lot of time on them,” said Gurley. “I traveled to different squadrons throughout the ‘90s to repair A-4s, and hearing about this project brings back memories.”

Aircraft Transfer Branch planner Jeffrey Mitchell highlighted the unique nature of this project due to its one-of-a-kind paint scheme. “This is the fourth historical aircraft we have done for the air station, but the first A-4,” said Mitchell. “This project honors Marine Attack Squadron 223, which flew the A-4 until 1987 when they transitioned to the McDonnell-Douglas AV-8.”

Fleet Readiness Center East Aircraft Paint Shop artisans apply the first coats of paint to the retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk. The aircraft will serve as a historical display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

FRCE’s Aircraft Paint Shop provides paint schemes for the aircraft serviced at the depot. However, due to the A-4’s historical significance, Mitchell and his team collaborated with historians from Marine Attack Squadron 223. “We got pictures and ideas from them; they were very helpful. We wanted to make this aircraft look like it did back in the day,” Mitchell explained.

Mills appreciated the creative freedom allowed in the paint scheme. “It was nice to have a bit of our own creative freedom with this paint scheme,” he added.

Mitchell noted that restoring historical aircraft for display involves different processes than painting operational aircraft. “We still painted it with the same color schemes used during that time, but the overall paint job differs from a regular aircraft painting process,” said Mitchell. “Operational aircraft usually look weathered and dull. For restoration jobs, we apply a clear coat to help withstand the sun and weather, protecting the paint from bubbling and fading over time.”

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) Aircraft Paint Shop artisans apply stencils to the retired Douglas A-4M Skyhawk to ensure the placement and quality of the aircraft’s major markings and insignia. FRCE Artisans worked with local historians to design a historically accurate paint scheme.

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, a Vietnam-era single-seat attack aircraft developed for the Navy and Marine Corps in the 1950s, remained in service until its retirement in 2003. The aircraft became popular due to its compact size, lightweight body, and ground attack capabilities.

Aircraft Clean and Paint Shop Supervisor Ronald Gray emphasized that while restoration projects like the A-4 deviate from FRCE’s usual focus, they highlight another way the depot’s artisans serve the fleet. “Reviving old, retired aircraft like the A-4 for display is such an honor,” said Gray. “In doing so, we honor the depot’s history, the aircraft’s history, the aviators who flew A-4s, and those who serviced it.”

FRCE, North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul, and technical services provider, employs over 4,000 civilian, military, and contract workers and generates annual revenue exceeding $1 billion. The depot serves the fleet while being an integral part of the U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) artisans transport the restored Douglas A-4M Skyhawk to temporary storage until it is moved to its final home as a historic display onboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. FRCE artisans worked with the air station’s historians to develop a unique paint scheme that honors a local Marine Corps squadron.