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Auto detailer José Junco details a car Tuesday in Encinitas. Photo by Shana Thompson
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Encinitas detailer joins team to clean up retired Air Force One

Some auto dealers simply detail cars, others have the high distinction of spiffing up a retired Air Force One jet.

Meet Encinitas-based detailer Jose Junco of High Performance Auto Detail, who recently returned from Seattle’s Museum of Flight to once again be part of the 15th annual Air Force One Detailing Team. His task, along with 64 other detailers from around the country, was to clean up the first presidential jet, Air Force One, and take a shot at preserving the museum’s newest acquisition, a Boeing B-52G Stratofortress Bomber known as Midnight Express.

Junco, 36, a single dad, is trained and certified by the International Detailing Association and by Renny Doyle’s Detailing Success, making him among the best for the job.

Of this opportunity a second time around, he said: “To see Air Force One shining in the sunlight from year-to-year is a testament to our commitment, hard work and skill. I am proud to be a part of this project the past two years; I look forward to many years ahead as a caretaker of aviation history.”

Junco said he relished the chance to be part of the massive project.

“The chance again to work with some of the best detailers in the U.S was phenomenal,” he said. “Doing this for my kids, as well as preserving national history, makes it all worthwhile.”

Until 2016, the plane lived outdoors on the tarmac, exposed to the elements, requiring a robust annual cleaning, polishing and protection for its paint and aluminum. Since then it has found a home under the museum’s new open-air Airpark Pavilion. Although it is mostly protected from the elements, it is still exposed to the area’s damp climate and extreme temperatures, requiring a rigorous cleaning, polishing and application of a paint sealant to protect it from year to year, he explained.

Of course, master detailer Doyle agreed the chance to clean such a plane is truly a unique experience.

“Cleaning something as big as a jet airplane has its challenges, but when you are cleaning aircraft valued at hundreds of millions of dollars and that have such historical significance, it requires unique skills and knowledge of paint and bright work,” he said prior to this year’s event. “The first time I laid eyes on Air Force One 15 years ago, I doubted whether it could be saved — that is how challenging the project was; however, I see what Jose has done and I know what he can do. He is one of the best.”

And even though the job was a weeklong project, Junco said he didn’t mind making the commitment on a voluntary, pro bono basis.

“When you see the plane, the feeling is unexplainable,” he said. “Just the ability to help preserve a national treasure is amazing, the plane is priceless. It is a dream come true for me. I am father to two wonderful kids and I see it like the opportunity to preserve this plane for future generations. My kids can see it shining in the sun and one day say truthfully that their dad helped keep it looking that way.”

Jose junco polishes the exterior of a classic bomber propeller in Seattle as part of a weeklong detailing project that began on July 15. Courtesy photo

As mentioned, the detailers also helped in preserving the museum’s newest acquisition the Midnight Express. Built in 1960, she was a nuclear-armed Cold War platform used extensively during the Vietnam War, and active during Operation Linebacker II in December 1972, which led to the release of 591 prisoners of war in 1973.

How it all began

Detailing such magnificent birds didn’t happen overnight for anybody, including Doyle. In fact, for more than a decade, Doyle and a growing team of detailers from around the country have been restoring, maintaining and preserving the first presidential jet Air Force One, for Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Known as SAM (Special Air Missions) 970, the plane was a flying Oval Office for four U.S. Presidents including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. The Boeing 707-120 also entertained many international VIPs such as Nikita Khrushchev and Henry Kissinger.

It began with a phone call in 2002 from a Bush administration official asking Renny to bring a team to Seattle’s Museum of Flight to clean and attempt to restore the deteriorating paint on the retired jet.

The restoration project started in 2003 with Renny and a small staff. In 2007, Renny opened the project to a team of about 20 experienced detailers who had been through his training. By 2010, the team had grown into a highly specialized and selective team of about 35. The 2018 15th anniversary Air Force One Detailing Team was 65 members.

Up close

While many can only dream of seeing such a plane up-close, Junco said working on it is a rare treat.

“Walking up to AFO makes it a reality not just something you envision yourself doing,” he said. “Polishing its paint and bright work (aluminum) you get a feeling like a personal attachment. No weird vibes at all, just positive vibes and an awesome working environment. We get a chance to walk inside AFO, and when you look at the seats and the interior, you can see how technology has advanced. It’s very cool to see.”

Don’t kid yourself, cleaning airplanes is grueling work, and you need to be fit.

“It is definitely grueling, I have to get ready weeks in advance with tools and materials to take to tackle this job; and the weather is also a challenge,” he said. “You must be in good physical condition all the time. Slinging a power buffer is certainly not for people with a weak back or weak arms, but it will help build up arm strength.”

“There is a lot of overhead buffing, which is especially hard since you have to maintain a steady pressure on the buffer at the same time you are holding it up overhead. We also must ride a lift and sometimes hang out over the railing with a safety harness to polish the top of the plane.”

As for the bomber and other planes they restored over the week they completed polishing the B-29 Super Fortress, a World War II bomber that the team began restoring in 2011; cleaned and polished the first-ever Boeing “Jumbo Jet 747; polished the supersonic Concorde Alpha Golf, which they have been working on since 2014; and numerous other priceless aircraft on exhibit at the Museum of Flight.

“The Concorde is a challenge because of its size, but the team has been working on the rest of the planes over the past several years and most of them are in better shape than in the past and we just need to give them their annual cleaning, polish, and sealant,” Junco said. “The World War II B29 bomber is solid aluminum, and cleaning metal is dirty work, even if it has only been a year.”

Back to Earth

When Junco returned from Seattle it was back to reality, and that was running his mobile detailing business in Encinitas, that services Solana Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, Carlsbad and Oceanside.

“My training with Detailing Success and the International Detailing Association, makes auto detailing and paint correction my specialty. But it is also because of my affiliation with the IDA and Renny Doyle, that I’ve been selected for such iconic projects as Air Force One,” he said.

Humbled to be part of such a project for a second year makes him smile but he doesn’t consider himself one of the superstars in the detailing arena.
“I don’t consider myself a superstar, but as a team, we are a little like rock stars of the detailing industry,” he said. “Detailing priceless museum aircraft is not something I foresaw myself doing when I got into detailing! Now I have the honor of working shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best detailers on the most elite project in the detailing.”

As for the future, Junco plans to continue running his four-year-old High Performance Auto Detail detailing business that he started from scratch after getting hooked on detailing while working at a San Diego dealership.

“We’re not just about shining cars, but we also want to educate the customer about high-end detailing and paint correction,” he said. “I really love what I do and going to Seattle is like the ultimate reward.”