Keeping heritage alive

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The Doc flight crew pose for a photo with U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets IV, Air Force Global Strike Command vice commander, inside Doc also known as the B-29 Superfortress, June 9, 2017, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. One of the crew members is Donnie Obreiter, 97th Maintenance Directorate KC-46 flight chief, who uses his spare time to help maintain historic aircrafts. (Courtesy photo by Donnie Obreiter)

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Donnie Obreiter, 97th Maintenance Directorate KC-46 flight chief, changes one of the engine mechanical fuel pump, September, 2016, at Prescott, Ariz. Obreiter uses his spare time to help maintain historic aircrafts. (Courtesy photo by Donnie Obreiter)

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Doc, also known as the B-29 Superfortress, is presented at the 2017 Air Power Over Altus Air Show, September 9, 2017, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. One of the crew members is Donnie Obreiter, 97th Maintenance Directorate KC-46 flight chief, who uses his spare time to help maintain historic aircrafts. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Cody Dowell)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- At the age of 10, one young boy fell in love with the B-29 Superfortress, which shaped the course of his life, love for and career with aircraft.

That boy was Donnie Obreiter, 97th Maintenance Directorate KC-46 flight chief. He enlisted in the Air Force for six years as a crew chief for the C-141 Starlifter because of his deep passion for aircraft. In September 1993, he joined the A-Team and has continued to maintain aircraft at Altus AFB ever since.

“Currently, I help maintain a B-24 liberator and two B-29s, Doc and Fifi, on a regular basis in my free time,” said Obreiter. “I also helped work on more than 13 other aircraft, from assisting with the process of regular maintenance to getting aircraft flying again.”

Orbreiter’s fondness for aircraft is part of the reason he has specifically chosen to continue working at Altus AFB.

“There are plenty of great organizations in this area that work with older aircraft and that’s part of the reason I stayed,” said Obreiter. “I started with a few volunteer organizations in Oklahoma City. One time, I was working with the A-26 and a couple trainer airplanes at an air show. I was at the right place and time when the B-29 Doc members happened to be a crew member short for their next stop in New Mexico. I went through their grounds school the next day and have been working with them ever since.”

On weekends, Obreiter volunteers his time to maintain local aircraft. He often uses his vacation time to travel to air shows and other events that are further away that need his help.

“It’s been a life-long passion. I owe my entire professional career to my love for aircraft,” said Obreiter. “Working on these aircraft and seeing them restored is extremely rewarding.”

Orbreiter’s son shares the same fondness for aircraft maintenance and is currently enrolled in the “Grow Your Own Mechanic” program.

“I would like to think that I passed my passion down to my son, but it’s a love he developed on his own,” said Obreiter. “I got the chance to fly with my son this year on Fifi and do a pre-check with Doc. I would give anything for the chance to work with my son like that again.”

Passing on the enjoyment of restoring aircraft for Obreiter doesn’t stop at his son. Obreiter encourages anyone who has the passion and time to help keep aircraft heritage alive.

“If someone wants to get involved, the opportunities will depend on how far they are willing to travel and what they want to do,” said Obreiter. “There are plenty of opportunities to help clean, conduct maintenance and give out information at places like Dallas and Oklahoma City.”

Keeping the heritage alive affects those who have put work into the aircraft and those who are too young to have personally experienced it.

“I’ll never forget the time I was working with the B-29 at an air show,” said Obreiter. “There was an old man at the crew entry door crying and I asked if he was alright. He said the last time he saw that door was in Tokyo in 1945. All of a sudden something went wrong with the plane they were flying. He was the first to jump out and looked back as he was falling. No one else made it out of the airplane. He thanked me for keeping the memory of his crew alive.”

Remembering and preserving history is a vital aspect of moving forward in the Air Force. Air Education Training Command is dedicated to rallying behind the services shared history.

“Any historian can appreciate anyone who values the preservation of history,” said Rich Guinan, 97th Air Mobility Wing historian. “Air Force history and heritage are even used by our AETC commanders to build resiliency and a sense of airmanship, thus increasing effectiveness and morale.”

Working with both old and new aircraft gives Obreiter a unique opportunity to see how far the Air Force has come.

“Working with the 80-year-old aircraft that inspired me to begin my career and hobby is a wonderful feeling,” said Obreiter. “I’m happy that I get to show off the smell and sounds of that aircraft that you just can’t get from a picture. The other great part of my job is that I get to work with the KC-46 which will one day hopefully inspire others as well.”

Realizing how people have personal connections to these pieces of history, motivated Obreiter to continue his work and encourages him to spread that realization to the next generation.