North American Aviation Archivists to Present at Museum Speaker Series

Ken Jungeberg and Ester Aube, who are working to digitize original drawings from North American Aviation, will present on Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.

When Ken, EAA 1211565, first laid eyes on historical drawings from the North American Aviation archives, he knew he was looking at something special. Thankfully, through his efforts and the recent work of the team at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota, these pieces will not be lost.

Ken went to work for North American Aviation in 1969. This was shortly after the company was merged with Rockwell to form North American Rockwell. While he worked on some incredible projects such as the B-1 bomber, Ken’s first loves were vintage World War II aircraft — aircraft that made history, such as the B-25 Mitchell bomber.

North American Aviation built some of the most important aircraft and spacecraft in U.S. history. It built the B-25, which delivered the first blows to the Japanese mainland when Doolittle and his Raiders hit Tokyo. The company built the P-51 Mustang, which broke the back of the German Luftwaffe. When we turned to jets, North American’s F-86 Sabre excelled in the sky over Korea in MiG Alley. When we went to the moon, it was in a North American command module.

When North American’s Columbus plant closed in 1988, Ken heard there was a plan to burn all non-current material, and he realized that there were technical drawings and plans of historic note in danger of being lost. These plans were not just measurements and line drawings. They were the blueprints that helped build the most impressive arsenal of democracy the world has ever seen. Ken knew he had to work to save what he could. He frantically wrote letters and placed phone calls to try to get access to them. Most people felt that he was fighting a losing battle — one that he’d never win

Then, almost as if by fate, a pipe burst. Soon the concrete block room where the drawings were stored filled with water. Employees took all the drawings out and placed them on a big pike on the factory floor. After a few weeks, Ken got a call. He was told, “Come and get them today. If you don’t, we aren’t sure what will happen.”

There was one caveat: “Never send them to a landfill or let them become trash. Be proud of the history and name of North American Aviation.”

That was all Ken needed to spring into action. He immediately rented a truck and contacted a few friends. They retrieved all the drawings and took them to a barn to dry out, trying to save what they could. Drawings of special interest to Ken would go to his home. For 32 years they were his pride and joy. After hanging onto them for decades, Ken decided he wanted to find them a permanent home where they would be appreciated. He thought briefly about selling them, but he didn’t feel quite right about that. This is where AirCorps enters the story.

AirCorps is a restoration and maintenance facility based in Minnesota, but it’s more than just that. It has produced some of the most gorgeous and detailed restorations of the past few years. In addition, it has an extensive technical library it has been working to digitize and share with the wider community of restorers, operators, and enthusiasts.

AirCorps data and library specialist Ester Aube, EAA 1405949, has been with the company since 2016.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” Ester said. “My brother was huge into airplanes as well when we were younger.” Ester studied art history in college and learned how to preserve historic books. Following a tip from a friend, she went to work for AirCorps and was amazed by its wonderful document and parts cataloguing system. “One of the things I enjoy most is preserving and using historical information that was produced when it wasn’t historical,” Ester said.

Last year the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Cincinnati let AirCorps folks know that they should talk to Ken. “We heard he had original drawings,” Ester said. “A lot of times folks think they have originals, and what they actually have are copies, and a lot of the time it’s microfilm.” Ken sent 14 samples that covered the gamut of what he had. When the crew at AirCorps opened one, they discovered it was an original drawing of the throttle quadrant for the P-51 Mustang. Up until this point, the only plan that existed for this part was a very dark and hard-to-read microfilm. Now they were holding the crisp and preserved original. “I almost cried,” Ester recalled. “How am I holding this right now?”

Soon Ester and the team from AirCorps made the trip to Ken’s home in Cincinnati to see the crates and crates holding his collection. “I was amazed at what I was seeing,” Ester said. The drawings were not just of standard North American aircraft, although those pieces were part of the collection, too. Ester and the team were seeing items that no one but North American employees had ever laid eyes on. Experimental aircraft such as a single-tailed B-25 design were represented, as were aircraft such as early T-6 Texans and A-36 Apaches.

The drawings were loaded onto a 26-foot box truck and driven back to Minnesota. Once home, the sorting of everything began. “We are sorting it all by prefix. Once that is done we will then sort by size and numerical order. Then we will catalog them. Once they are completely preserved, then we can scan and digitize.”

Ken first saved these amazing treasures because he enjoyed them. With the help of AirCorps, he ensured that people are going to be able to enjoy these just as much as he has for the last 30 years.

“What he did for the warbird community is save the foundations of history,” Ester said. “We are going to learn so much from this.”

Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youths 5 and under, and just $5 for non-members.

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