Inside the restoration hangar at the Pima Air & Space Museum, one will find Mary Ellen Conrado hard at work.
"I'm here three days a week," she said.
For the past 13 years, since 2004, Conrado's played an instrumental role in restoring old airplanes to showcase throughout the museum. Specifically, she's worked on 39 planes during her nearly decade and a half at the museum.
"I do the fabric work," Conrado said. "Replacing the fabric on the airplanes."
Conrado explained there are a variety of planes at the museum, that come from many different eras. Some of the planes that come from earlier eras take more work to restore them, because they were made with a fabric exterior that wasn't designed to last very long. So, she's there to make sure the history lives on.
Sometimes, crews will bring in a small piece of a plane, just an individual part that needs work. However other times, they'll bring her an entirely deteriorated wing, leave it in her corner of the hangar for her to work on for a few weeks, maybe even months. But sure enough, she'll get it done.
"When you hit the sweet spot, the scissors just slide along," she said, smiling while reconstructing a piece of a wing.
It's taken her years to master the craft, and soon enough, she won't be able to do it anymore.
"If we want to keep these airplanes around, we have to have somebody to do this cover work," Conrado said.
So, she's passing it on to a member of the younger generation, and that's where Craig Lintow comes into the picture.
"I haven't learned the whole process yet," he said.
Lintow works on the other side of the restoration hangar, he does other restoration work, his specialty is different than Conrado's. However, he's eager to learn how she does it, so whenever she can't do it anymore, he can continue to preserve history.
"They're getting older and not able to do it," Lintow said. "And the younger generation needs to learn these things."
It's a process Conrado says takes a lot of trial and error, and each task is very different. She's developed her own style and way of doing things, and hopes her understudy will learn her ways, but also, figure out his own way of doing things.
"I'm known to be picky," she said, laughing. "But you have to do it right. He took that very nicely."
Patting him on the back, smiling, and giving him a hard time, Conrado says Lintow is a great study, and is confident he'll continue to make the airplanes of the past look good in the future.
"He's going to be good," she said. "He's going to be really good."
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