Detailing history: Two Big Island detailers chosen to help restore historic Air Force One

  • Robin Marquez of Signature Auto Detail in Kapaau is one of 55 detailers chosen to work on a jet that served as Air Force One, as well as other historic aircraft. Courtesy photos

  • Detailers from last year’s polish of the Boeing 707-120 that once served as Air Force One do what is known as “the dance,” buffing the underside of the historic aircraft’s wing.

  • Kelly Mankin of Ake Ake Professional Detailing in Kona is one of 55 detailers chosen to work on historic aircraft, including a jet that served as Air Force One. (Courtesy photos)

HILO — Two vehicle detailers from the Big Island will be at Seattle’s Museum of Flight for a week starting today. Their prestigious mission — detail several historic aircraft, including a Boeing 707-120 that served four presidents as Air Force One.

Kelly Mankin of Ake Ake Professional Detailing in Kailua-Kona and Robin Marquez of Signature Auto Detail Hawaii in Kapaau were selected from a pool of hundreds of detailers nationwide by the “Detailer of Air Force One,” Renny Doyle of Detailing Success in Big Bear, Calif.

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Both Big Islanders are first-time members of the 55-detailer team, which has been restoring and detailing the aircraft — which carried Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — for 16 years.

Mankin, 50, who has almost two decades experience detailing automobiles, aircraft and boats, is one of just two women on this year’s team and one of only four women chosen for the prestigious detailing job — which is done voluntarily, without pay by the detailers, who see their service as a patriotic honor.

“It’s a gigantic team-building exercise, and we all have a lot of pride and excitement because it is a historical plane. We will be working on history,” Mankin said. “And the experience is unparalleled to what you’d be getting anywhere else. The main reason I wanted to get on this project is because of the experience and the opportunity to work around the best people in the industry, to watch and learn and grow.”

Marquez, 38, who is also a full-time certified athletic trainer at Kohala High School, described getting the call to detail the historic jet as “mind-blowing.”

“I feel honored and humbled at the same time to be hand selected from among hundreds, just coming from a small town in Kohala,” said Marquez, a mobile detailer who services clients on the Kohala Coast and in Waimea, Waikoloa and Honokaa.

“It’s almost like therapy to me,” he added. “There’s a lot of hard work involved but it’s kind of my happy place, just to see the transformation before my eyes, the absolute satisfaction I get just from serving people and the look on people’s faces — just falling in love with their vehicle again.”

Both have taken advanced courses in detailing from Doyle, an industry leader in vehicle detailing and associated products who was contacted in 2003 by an official in the administration of President George W. Bush about helping to save the deteriorating paint and exposed metal on the iconic plane.

“I trained Kelly and Robin as experts in paint and helped them perfect their skills at cleaning and polishing paint and metal,” Doyle said in a statement. “They have an eye for detail and an instinct for perfection that is an absolute must for this project.”

In addition, the team will continue restoring a solid aluminum World War II B-29 Super Fortress bomber and a recently acquired and badly deteriorating Vietnam-era B-52G Stratofortress bomber. They will also clean and continue to maintain the first-ever Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the Concorde Alpha Golf and the first 1960s-70s-era Boeing 727-022 commercial airliner.

The Boeing 707-120, which was manufactured in 1958 and became Air Force One the following year, was replaced as the president’s air transport in 1962, but continued in the presidential fleet ferrying VIPs and the vice president until 1996. Dubbed SAM (Special Air Missions) 970, it is on loan to the Museum of Flight from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

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“To be selected is not only an honor because we’re working on history. It’s also an honor because these people are trusting us to have enough skill to complete the job in the best possible manner,” Mankin said. “I certainly never expected to be detailing multimillion-dollar historic airplanes when I got into detailing. But I consider this a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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