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Recovering from July hailstorm: Peterson Aero Club returns first of six damaged airplanes to fleet

Four Cessna T-41 military training aircraft assigned to the Rocky Mountain U.S. Air Force Flight Training Center, also known as the Peterson Aero Club, wait for hail damage repair caused by the July 2016 hail storm at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., March 7, 2017. The July hailstorm damaged six out of 11 Peterson Aero Club airplanes. The first of six airplanes was fully repaired and returned back to the fleet on Feb. 23, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

Four Cessna T-41 military training aircraft assigned to the Rocky Mountain U.S. Air Force Flight Training Center, also known as the Peterson Aero Club, wait for hail damage repair caused by the July 2016 hail storm at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., March 7, 2017. The July hailstorm damaged six out of 11 Peterson Aero Club airplanes. The first of six airplanes was fully repaired and returned back to the fleet on Feb. 23, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

A Cessna T-41D, assigned to the Rocky Mountain U.S. Air Force Flight Training Center, also known as the Peterson Aero Club, is the first of six airplanes damaged by the July 2016 hailstorm to return to the aero club’s fleet, Feb. 23, 2017, on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Peterson Aero Club offers training courses for pilots, pilots who want to get different ratings, private pilot license, and several other certifications to Department of Defense military and civilian members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

A Cessna T-41D, assigned to the Rocky Mountain U.S. Air Force Flight Training Center, also known as the Peterson Aero Club, is the first of six airplanes damaged by the July 2016 hailstorm to return to the aero club’s fleet, Feb. 23, 2017, on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Peterson Aero Club offers training courses for pilots, pilots who want to get different ratings, private pilot license, and several other certifications to Department of Defense military and civilian members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – -- On July 28, 2016 at approximately 9:40 p.m., a hailstorm swept through the Colorado Springs, Colorado, area causing damage to windows, roofs, cars, fences, and even airplanes.

That day the Rocky Mountain U.S. Air Force Flight Training Center or better known as the Peterson Aero Club, located on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, lost six airplanes from their fleet. After five months in repair, the Aero Club returned the first out of six airplanes back to the fleet, Feb. 23, 2017.

“The hailstorm was not predicted, otherwise the airplanes would have been in the hangar,” said Greg Cortum, Peterson Aero Club director. “So when it came through, there were six T-41’s outside and they were just destroyed, completely destroyed.”

At the time the Peterson Aero Club had 11 airplanes, approximately 100 students and 220 Aero Club members.

“These are our bread and butter, they are where we make our money so when you’re looking at losing six airplanes out of, at the time 11, that was more than half the fleet,” said Bob Jerman, Peterson Aero Club chief instructor. “Seeing the planes destroyed was enough to make you cry, those were all flyable airplanes.”

Following the storm, the Peterson Aero Club received an airplane from the Aero Club located at March Air Force Base, California, to help with the student load. They are also getting another airplane from the U.S. Air Force Academy, however, it needs an engine before joining the fleet.

The remaining airplanes took up the student load, almost doubling the flying hours on the engines, said Cortum. However, the hailstorm not only affected them by adding more hours to the remaining airplanes but also made scheduling for the students more difficult.

“The airplanes went from flying one to two times a day, to five times a day. Not many of them are flying five times a day but the trainers, the T-41Cs, are the ones most desired right now,” said Jerman. “The students have to schedule 10 days to two weeks in advance to get the time and the airplane they want so it has impacted our operation here quite a bit.”

The airplanes are getting fixed, or re-skinned, one at a time. Since the planes are older, the contracted company has to remake all the skins themselves for a total of approximately $92k an airplane, said Cortum.

“They have to completely strip the wings, re-skin the wings and the top of the fuselage, replace the front and back windows, everything from the tail section is re-skinned, the elevator, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, rudder, and the plastic end caps on the wings since they were all bashed off,” he said.

Cortum hopes to have the full fleet back in action by the end of the summer with the remaining five, damaged airplanes taking six weeks each to repair. Once repaired they will have 13 airplanes instead of the 11 they had at the start of 2016.

“The sooner we get them back, the better we will be. We were the best Aero Club in the Air Force in 2015,” said Cortum. “Then not too long after that is when we got hit with the hail storm and destroyed pretty much everything. I understand (the contracted company) are busy too, they have lots and lots of airplanes up there from hail damage, not just from here but all around the airport.”

The Peterson Aero Club offers training courses for new pilots, pilots who want to get different ratings, private pilot license, and several other certifications to Department of Defense military and civilian members.

For more information about courses and certificates offered at the Peterson Aero Club, call 719-556-4310 or go to http://www.21fss.com/about/aero-club/.

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