JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- One of McGuire's most storied aircraft is back on display after more than 40 months of restoration. A team of volunteers from various on- and off-base organizations helped restore the C-118A Liftmaster back to near-original condition. Members of 305th and 514th Air Mobility wings and 87th Air Base Wing transported the historic aircraft from Big Beige to the circle in front of the McGuire Passenger Terminal here March 30, 2013. "It's a huge piece of not only American history, but of McGuire history as well," said Aungelic Nelson, 305th AMW historian. One of the C-118's most notable legacies is Elvis Presley returned to the U.S. from Germany on this very aircraft. The restoration project officer, Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Hofrichter, views that legacy as only a piece of this aircraft's many claims to fame.
"This aircraft isn't a part of Elvis' history," said Hofrichter, 514th Maintenance Operations Flight superintendent. "Elvis is a part of this aircraft's history." The C-118 was the first cargo plane assigned to then McGuire Air Force Base in 1953 and began McGuire's transformation from a combat base into a mobility base, said Nelson. This Liftmaster, as well as many other C-118s, contributed to Operations SAVE HAVEN I and II, saving more than 14,000 Hungarian refugees from Communist oppression from 1956-1957. It was then transferred to the U.S. Navy to continue its mobility mission after the aircraft's Air Force employment. "A lot of people have turned wrenches on this Liftmaster and a lot of people supported it," said Hofrichter, a Bordentown, N.J., native. The Navy operated the C-118 during the rest of the aircraft's flying time, which concluded at Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland. Volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours, mostly their off-duty time, toward the aircraft's fuselage refurbishment, interior, propeller blades and paint scheme since renovation began October 2009. Maintainers from the 305th and 514th Maintenance groups worked in their spare time to restore both the interior and exterior of the aircraft. Boy Scouts from Winslow High School, Troop 251, focused their efforts on rewiring to restore lighting in the aircraft. Members of the AMC Test and Evaluations Squadron, and even retirees who had previously flown on the airplane, assisted in various ways, including scraping paint from the historical aircraft. Members of JB MDL's First Four volunteered to block roadways and ensure the aircraft didn't hit any obstacles along West Arnold Avenue during the transport to the circle. Hofrichter said historical aircraft static displays help future generations of Airmen gain familiarity with the legacy upon which their time in uniform is built. "What we're doing today is giving the aircraft a place of honor," said Hofrichter. "With this static display, we honor those people who died on the aircraft, the pilots, maintainers who kept it flying as well as the passengers who flew on it. It's their legacy that brought the U.S. Air Force to where it is today."