History Restored

Gary Norville, American Aero Services owner, stands in front of a Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat that is being refurbished.

American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach has been in business more than 28 years, restoring and maintaining aircraft, military vehicles, armor, missiles and rockets.

Owner Gary Norville took over the business from George and Virginia Baker in 1998. He said the main business is the restoration and maintenance of warbirds, which is any military aircraft that was in service.

“Our particular genre is World War II aircraft and vehicles,” Mr. Norville said. “We do a lot of work for foundations and museums and private individuals all over the country. We’ve done rockets for NASA and the Air Force, space vehicles for them. We have 23 employees, probably just over half of them are retired military.

“I’ve just always liked World War II history and World War II aviation,” he said. “Through this business (I’ve) met lots of veterans. We don’t look for general aviation or commercial aircraft. We stick strictly with the warbird and antique-type aircraft. We like the prop driven aircraft.”

Some of the projects include Vietnam-era prop driven aircraft and Korean War aircraft. Current restoration projects include a B-176 Flying Fortress “Shady Lady,” a P-40B Tomahawk, a PBY-5A Catalina, a Stinson L-1 Vigilant and a F6F-3 Hellcat.

The Hellcat belongs to the Collings Foundation, a private, non-profit educational foundation in Stow, Mass., with a mission of preservation and display of transportation-related history.

Such work comes in from all around the country. Some parts have to be manufactured as getting parts is understandably a challenge.

“Ninety-five per cent of our aircraft are restored to fly again and they are restored to be in their original condition like when they were in theatre or coming out of the factory,” Mr. Norville said. “They are invited to different air shows so people can see an artifact. The idea is to bring it back to authenticity.”

He is a firm believer in learning about history.

“There’s a whole generation that’s in the country now that never saw 9/11 and have no clue what it was like that day,” he said. “They have no grasp on it. which is really scary. It’s scary to know there is a whole generation that can’t wrap their head around how bad that day was. Last year I went up to the 9/11 museum and it was probably a three-hour tour I ended up taking and I probably cried for an hour and a half of it.”

American Aero Services has a section of memorabilia that the public is welcome to view. Mr. Norville said he enjoys seeing veterans come through and look around or bringing their families through. He said they have a following of people that just stop in to see what is going on, which is fine as long as it doesn't interfered with work.

American Aero Services has been the recipient of many awards in the warbird, military vehicle and space vehicle communities.

The business is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday at 1501 Airway Circle in New Smyrna Beach. For more information, visit americanaeroservices.com.

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