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91-year-old restoration volunteer preserves service heritage

John Rumpf works to restore pieces of aircraft to be exhibited for the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 13 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo / Darrius A. Parker)

John Rumpf works to restore pieces of aircraft to be exhibited for the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 13 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo / Darrius A. Parker)

John Rumpf works to restore pieces of aircraft to be exhibited for the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 13 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo / Darrius A. Parker)

John Rumpf works to restore pieces of aircraft to be exhibited for the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 13 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo / Darrius A. Parker)

John Rumpf works to restore pieces of aircraft to be exhibited for the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 13 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo / Darrius A. Parker)

John Rumpf works to restore pieces of aircraft to be exhibited for the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, August 13 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo / Darrius A. Parker)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

Aircraft are some of the most complex pieces of machinery. From concept, to fabrication, testing and maintenance, and eventual retirement, the behind the scenes work and effort required to maintain even the smallest parts of an aircraft are often not thought of by many. 

But for the restoration workers and volunteers at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the smallest of details are often the most crucial as they perform their duties.

John Rumpf is a restoration volunteer at the museum, and he understands exactly what it takes to keep aircraft “museum ready”.

“I never knew how an aircraft was built. From this job, I figured out how they were assembled by each piece,” he said.

Rumpf was born and raised in Austria. He grew up wanting to be a locomotive engineer.

However, just as Rumpf was of age to pursue his dreams, World War II ended. Careers such as a locomotive engineer ceased to exist.

And because of this, he had to change his career path.

 “In the middle of March 1945, I went home to my parents out in the country of Vienna. I didn’t return to Vienna until the government was established and they put up a notice saying that everybody had to be trained in an apprenticeship for at least one year. I went back to Vienna but it was not easy. There was no transportation and the distance was 100 miles,” he said.

During this time, Austria was divided into occupation zones between the British, Soviets, French and Americans.

“The place where I crossed over into Vienna was very close to the border separating the occupation zone between the English and Russians. At the time I didn’t have any papers, so if I was caught by either side, I would have been put into a camp,” he said.

Though Rumpf lived in a harsh environment, he committed to becoming a toolmaker. He honed his skills, working with different manufacturers and eventually retired at the age of 68. However, instead of relaxation, an opportunity to put his skills to use for the Air Force arrived in 1998.  

“I was only 68 years old when I retired as a toolmaker (in Austria). I didn’t want to let go of my job because I liked it. The museum was in need of a toolmaker, so I decided to try it out,” Rumpf said. “I remember I got to America on a Tuesday. That Thursday is when I started my job for restorations. I didn’t ask what the benefits were or how much I was getting paid. I just wanted to work.”

Rumpf is now almost 91, and he continues to find joy in his job and the people of Air Force Materiel Command. Whether leveraging his keen understanding of trigonometry, to calculating certain equations to form different parts of aircraft, to maintaining his skills as a toolmaker, both physically and mentally, Rumpf comes to work each day ready to accomplish the next task.

“I enjoy it because it is a challenge. There is nothing I cannot do or make. It may be challenging, but I never have any problems fixing any part of the aircraft,” he said.

Rumpf has restored everything from the biggest to the smallest parts of planes at the NMUSAF. He has fixed everything from tires all the way up to a demolished piece of a Beau fighter that took him close to a year to finish.

“For my first big project, I was assigned to make about 60 parts for aircraft tires. Once I finished that, more orders started to come in to complete another 60 parts and then another 60 parts. These parts all went to the museum. I enjoy the people around here, and I enjoy what I do,” he said.

Rumpf is hardworking and motivated, and he exemplifies the kind of Airmen that support the mission at AFMC. Whether one’s duty is restoring aircraft at the NMUSAF or making a decision from the head of the table as the commander, each AFMC Airman’s mission plays a key role in the success of the command.

Rumpf may not wear a uniform, and he is not in command, but his Airman role is to restore and maintain the heritage of aircraft and weaponry that the Air Force has used in the past to serve as a reference points as the service builds for the future.