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Vintage Aircraft Tool Cataloging, Re-housing and Preservation Project

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In the years following WWII the United States and her Allies conducted engineering and flight tests of many different types of captured or surrendered Axis aircraft, primarily from Germany and Japan. Many of these aircraft were acquired by Allied and US technical intelligence collection teams.  It was ordered that at least one of each type of enemy aircraft be captured and evaluated by these teams, and that each aircraft type be maintained in flyable condition for a minimum of one year. To make this possible all technical data and support materiel available (such as tool kits, parts, etc.) had to also be captured to meet this requirement.


Fuselage of a captured German WWII FockeWulf Ta-152H-0 advanced fighter, currently stored at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility. This aircraft was surrendered to an RAF intelligence team and later transferred to the US for evaluation.

Several of these captured aircraft were donated to the National Air and Space Museum upon completion of US Air Force testing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and much of the supporting parts and tools came along with them. At the time loose tools and toolkits were not seen as accessionable objects, merely as tools to be used for repair and possible future restoration purposes. They remained in storage for years. Today this collection of tools contains some of the very last examples of their kind to be found anywhere in the world. It is due to the historically important and unique nature of these objects that a Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF) has enabled a project to catalog, re-house, and preserve these irreplaceable examples of tools and kits.


One of several large crates filled with hundreds of loose tools of various types. Sorting these loose tools and beginning a comprehensive identification and inventory process has been the first priority of the 2010 CCPF Vintage Aircraft Tool project.

The  project began in July of 2010. The cataloging, condition assessment, and digital photography of this varied and unique collection was begun immediately so that a comprehensive inventory of this diverse collection could be created.


Examples of sorted and inventoried tools. Upon identification it was discovered that these tools were highly specialized and potentially one-of-a-kind examples. The left tool was designed to cool large bearings with a cryogenic liquid to aid their removal during overhaul of a BMW 801 engine, like the one used to power the Focke Wulf FW-190. The right tool was designed to be used on the cylinder heads of several different types of Daimler-Benz engines, such as those used to power the He-219 Night Fighter currently being restored at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility.

One goal of the project is to create a curatorial and collections guideline for the proper and safe use of these tools, ensuring they remain in an accessible yet preserved condition. To ensure future access to restoration specialists and researchers, a series of protective storage cabinets will provide adequate space that maximizes accessibility yet minimizes unnecessary handling. This system of storage will also allow for easier transportation of the collection to the new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Additionally, it is necessary to prepare most of these tools for long-term, stable storage via thorough cleaning to remove old, soiled, or failing preservative coatings and service-related grime, and also treating areas of active surface corrosion. Once cleaned and treated each tool will then have a modern preservative coating reapplied, ensuring long-term stabilization and usability.


Both engines above are from the He-219 Night Fighter being restored at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility. The left engine has already undergone restoration at the time this image was taken, while the right engine has yet to be restored. Being able to use or copy examples of purpose-built tools is important to restorers. If these necessary and unique tools are misplaced, damaged beyond usability or disappear, restoration is seriously hindered.

Copies of these tools have been made in the past to perform vital restoration work on some of the associated captured aircraft, and in some instances the tools themselves have been used. But once they are lost, then any similar restoration or stabilization work will be made much more difficult, if not impossible. This project will help ensure that these important objects are preserved.

Ray Barnett is a contractor working with the collections division of the National Air and Space Museum.

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9 thoughts on “Vintage Aircraft Tool Cataloging, Re-housing and Preservation Project

  1. I think the story of HOW the Smithsonian restores aircraft would be a fascinating video program/blog feature/whatever. Questions about what SHOULD be done, versus what CAN be done, on a given project–and how total a restoration should be–are fascinating, and you have all those real-world examples in the museum. I remember one time at the Garber facility talking to one of the restorers who was explaining that in the process of dismantling a WWI fighter for restoration, the crew found an old Hershey bar wrapper from the 20s wedged under the floor. The question was what to do with the Hershey bar wrapper. I believe the wrapper was put back where it had been found, when the restored plane was put together again.

    More features like this please!!!

  2. Amazing how intact the fuselage is for that German fighter. It would be interesting to find out the story behind how exactly it was captured and brought to the U.S.

  3. Hello
    Are a large fan the tank Ta 152 H. I am interested in color photos of this machin Focke Wulf Ta-152H-0.Would it be to be ordered possible with you these pictures? or it is possible a coworker of them me which to make can. as order, I would also pay
    best regards
    Frank Baumgärtner

  4. Me and three of my sons had the pleasure of visiting Udvar-hazy and the Smithsonian aviation museums. I wish to congratulate every one associated with these museums, the hangar builders, the aircraft restorers, the tour guides, the staff, everyone is doing an excellent job. There are some WWII aircraft that I had hoped to see, but I understand that there are still a lot of aircraft waiting to be restored. so, hopefully they will come.

  5. photos of this restoration would be all to useful for model builders like my self and others.

  6. During WW2 Australia managed to capture a lot of Japanese aircraft and all were bought to Brisbane where they were examined closely. They were also given names…betty bomber,Zero etc etc . Although the buildings where this work was carried out have gone,there are many buildings right across Brisbane built by the SEBEE engineer corp still in use .The Australian Caterpillar agents use several very large WW2 hangers at Archerfield for their workshops.

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