The restoration process begins with the removal of up to eight coats of paint, from the original USAF paint to the several coats of Sears Weatherbeater that has often been applied with brushes and rollers. The majority of the paint removal is done through a process called soda blasting, the shooting of baking soda at a high speed and pressure. On the T-29, for example, 5,000 pounds of baking soda were used. In places where the paint must be removed mechanically, the volunteers must sand by hand, or use small quantities of chemical stripper.
After the paint is removed, the aircraft is washed and assessed for structural soundness. The aircraft is then deconstructed, with all flight control surfaces removed to be restored separately. The control surfaces usually need to be re-covered with fabric or aluminum skins. The controls are restored and painted, and set aside for installation at a later time.
The next two steps are completed simultaneously, as they require the most number of volunteers and time. One crew is working inside the aircraft, one on the exterior. The crew working inside the aircraft will remove any equipment and repair or restore them in the shop. Any broken windows, floor panels, or structural pieces are replaced or repaired. Meanwhile, the exterior crew removes inspection and access panels to reveal the inside structure of the aircraft. Frequently, large quantities of bird nests and other debris are found within the structure. After removal, areas of corrosion (caused by bird droppings, which are highly corrosive to aluminum) or damage are replaced or repaired. The landing gears and gear wells are manually stripped of paint, doors are removed and repaired, and other exterior equipment is removed and restored separately.
The aircraft is ready for paint once the interior and exterior structure has been repaired or replaced. It is cleaned, and the sections of the aircraft are masked off to allow for each layer of color to be painted. The detail of the aircraft is painted according to Air Force technical orders, photographs, and other documentation. Insignia, USAF markings, stars and bars, and other large markings are laid out by hand, masked, and painted.
After the aircraft is de-masked, all of the removed and restored pieces are reassembled and installed on the aircraft. The aircraft is then ready to join the Museums's permanent collection in one of the Museum's hangars.