Restoring JBLM history

British conservator shows appreciation for American history all across the country

By J.M. Simpson on September 19, 2019

Gordon Ponsford walked under and around a Douglas B-23 Dragon aircraft as he explained the finer points of airplane restoration.

"Note the perfect line between the blue and the white here on the emblem on this wing," he said.

"It is hand-painted," continued Ponsford, "and that means if we have to take a day or two more to make sure the work we've done is perfect, then we take them."

For the next several weeks, Ponsford and his team are restoring a number of the aircraft and statues at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).

"We're a portable body shop in that not only do we paint and clean, we also replace metal work and canvas if needed," he explained, "and today we're working on this Fairchild C-82A Packet at McChord and the statue of Iron Mike on Fort Lewis Main."

Both items hold special meaning to servicemembers at JBLM. The twin-engine Packet, with its tricycle landing gear, high wings, high tail boom and clamshell rear doors served as the prototype for the C-117 to the C-17.

As for Iron Mike, it is the quintessential sculpture honoring the infantrymen who have served at JBLM since World War I.

A conservator in the British meaning of the word, Ponsford has dedicated his life to conserving and restoring historic aircraft, artifacts, sculptures and monuments.

Born to American parents, he lived in England until he was 14 years old.  

"As a youngster, I would go to body shops where I learned about restoration," Ponsford recalled, "and I also gravitated toward the antiquity of England."

Opening an office in Washington, D.C. in 1984, he brought with him an English-born appreciation for the artifacts of American history and what they mean.

"For 22 years, I worked as a conservator at Arlington National Cemetery," he explained. "I have done more restorations at Arlington than any other man."

Over the past 45 years, he has worked on numerous restoration and conservation projects across the country.

"I still love what I do," he said.

Ponsford shared that he has also restored artifacts gathered from the Titanic; he has restored all of the aircraft on display at the Air Force Academy (to say nothing of other aircraft on other bases); and he has restored Dr. Martin Luther King's Bible, the one used by President Barack Obama during his second inauguration.

"We are not just concerned about the cosmetics of what we restore," he said. "What we do is personal to us because we do our due diligence to know and appreciate the history of the what we work on, and to do it right."

He climbed up a ladder, and, using yellow tape to affix light brown covering paper on the port side of the C-82A, smiled and said, "The best part of this job is when veterans walk by and tell us their stories."

For more information about Gordon Ponsford and his work, visit: