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Touching A Dream, An F-14 Restoration Volunteer’s Story


Touching A Dream, An F-14 Restoration Volunteer’s Story

First-hand story from Alison Cash, Space Camp Volunteer on the F-14 Tomcat restoration: I don’t remember when the Grumman F-14 Tomcat first came into my life. I grew up on Air Force bases, and have had a love affair with airplanes from a very young age. But this Navy plane? Maybe it was the similarities between the F-14 and the fictional Robotech Veritech fighters? I was mesmerized by this twin engine, variable sweep machine. I fed my imagination and curiosity by every means I knew how. I checked out library books on jet aircraft. I watched Robotech – over and over and over. I watched every documentary that came on TV that remotely involved fighter aircraft. I begged my parents for model kits, toy planes, and more books. I memorized statistics, and quizzed myself every time an aircraft flew overhead. In middle school, I began competing in the science fair. My dad helped me build a homemade wind tunnel, and I learned the joys (and challenges) of conducting wind tunnel experiments. At one of the science fairs, a judge asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a fighter pilot, or maybe somebody who designs and builds fighter aircraft. He asked me what my favorite plane was and I easily answered the F-14. He quizzed me on why and I breathlessly spouted off statistics and talked about the role of the variable sweep wings in improving performance. The judge smiled and said six words that set me on an arrow straight path for the future: “You should be an aerospace engineer.” I continued my science fair projects in fluid dynamics and became increasingly familiar with how difficult the subject matter really was. But with inspiration flying overhead, in movies, and in books, I kept my head down, worked hard, and graduated with a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. Unfortunately, the real world won’t let you just pick any job. I ended up going the way of missile defense, and have been happy. But I never ceased seeking out the F-14 at air shows, and I still get sucked into watching documentaries. In 2006, the United States decommissioned – and subsequently destroyed – the F-14s. I would never work with them. I would never see them fly again. My dream had slipped away.Allison Cash And then an email came in from Chris Key asking for volunteers to help restore the F-14 on display at the US Space and Rocket Center. Are you kidding? The aircraft that accelerated my imagination and launched my career needs some work, and I can have the honor of helping to lovingly restore it? I’m there. I’m so there. That Saturday was a spiritual experience for me – one that I will never forget and one that I will cherish my entire life. The day was spent sanding, cleaning and painting the right landing strut. Not exactly the high adrenaline excitement I always imagined in being up close to an F-14. It was hot.  It was dirty. It was awesome. I finally got to touch my dream. waves


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