ERAU Students Preserving Pieces of Military History

Photo Courtesy: Riddle Redeemers
ERAU students has been working tirelessly every weekend for the past 2 years to help restore WWII aircraft

Henry Neiberlien/News Editor

A little-known Embry-Riddle student organization called Riddle Redeemers has been hard at work preserving aviation history at the Deland Naval Air Station Museum in Deland, Florida. Their collection includes famous and influential aircraft from the US Navy’s history such as the F-14 Tomcat and a Grumman TBF Avenger. Also included in their collection is a Korean War era Sikorsky S-52 helicopter and a USAF Lockheed T-33 (Training variant of the P-80 shooting star).

The museum also hosts the restoration of the “Fast and Nasty” PTF-3 PT boat from the Vietnam War that reportedly took part in the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Riddle Redeemer’s members have been concentrating their efforts on the F-14 and the TBF Avenger, and both these aircraft have come a long way from the troubled state they were upon arrival. The F-14 had been sitting for almost a decade, and the Floridian weather is not too kind to a fragile warbird. Fortunately, today it looks much better than when I first saw it while working with Riddle Redeemers on its restoration last spring. 

It has been repainted, cleaned and resealed from the elements to protect the star aircraft of “Top Gun” from the humid and rainy weather of Florida. Hopefully, this beloved aircraft will be preserved for decades to come to be appreciated by all who visit. The aircraft that has had the greatest restoration journey, however, is the TBF Avenger. This particular airframe crashed in Lake Michigan and sat rotting on the bottom of the great lake. All was not lost as the World War II torpedo bomber was fished out from the bottom of the lake and began its restoration back to its former glory.

Seeing it today it is hard to imagine that the aircraft was even submerged at all; it looks like the aircraft just rolled off the Grumman assembly line. Even though the NAS Deland museum is small, it has a dedicated group of veterans and students who volunteer their time working to preserve the history of Deland Municipal Airport, formerly Deland Naval Air Station. If you are looking to help work on these historic aircraft, there is no mechanical experience required, look up Riddle Redeemers on connections. If you just do not have the time but would like to help, feel free to visit the museum at 910 Biscayne Blvd in Deland right next to the Deland Airport and think about making a donation.

It is inspiring to see students here at Embry-Riddle not only looking toward the future with innovating ideas and news technologies, but also helping to preserve our past.