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Pilots Peter Torraca

‘Intrepid’ aircraft preservationist

Visiting the USS Intrepid Museum in New York City is a treat for anyone, but for pilot visitors the restoration hangar set up on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck is an additional bonus. Here is where aircraft at the museum are maintained or restored to displayable condition by a team of staff and volunteers led by Manager of Aircraft Restoration Peter Torraca—GA pilot, aircraft owner, and AOPA member. 
Peter Torraca, photographed by Emma Quedzuweit.
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Peter Torraca, photographed by Emma Quedzuweit.

Torraca’s love of flying began at a very young age. His father was a supercharger specialist on B–17s in World War II and started flight lessons after the war, but the financial pressures of a large family eventually restricted the young man to building model airplanes. “For most of my youth the family home was a model airplane factory,” Torraca recalls. “With pretty much all surfaces coated with a fine layer of balsa dust all the time. I remember household fragrances alternating between dope fumes and simmering tomato sauce.”

Torraca started flight training during high school and worked at the local FBO as a ramp attendant, but before he could get his certificate, college and career interfered. Twenty years later and married with a stable income, his thoughts returned to his interrupted dream. “My wife, having grown weary of my incessant ‘days of yore’ flying talk, gave me one of those introductory lesson gift certificates,” he says. He restarted lessons and earned his private pilot certificate in 1998, bought a Cessna 170A a year later, and has been “enjoying the heck out of flying and maintaining it ever since.” He most enjoys local flights and $100-hamburger runs but has the dream of someday making a coast-to-coast flight by hopping from grass strip to grass strip. “I don’t think I’m alone here,” he says. “That’s probably a pretty popular dream for many!”

Torraca has been preserving aircraft at the Intrepid (see “Briefing,” p. 44) for more than 12 years and describes it as his dream job. He prefers to refer to his work as preservation instead of restoration, as the aircraft are for static display and not returning to flying status.

“The awesome cadre of talented volunteers we have access to make it possible for only two staff—myself and an assistant—to keep them looking good and properly cared for; not an easy task when most of the airplanes live outdoors unprotected in the hostile salt-rich and direct UV exposure environment that New York City has to offer.…We have a pretty capable workshop and we’re able to fabricate most of what we require as far as replacement parts go.”

One of his favorite parts of the job is interacting with the public, especially those with a personal connection to the aircraft on display, such as the steady stream of U.S. and international visitors who have told him about their history with the F–16 Fighting Falcon, which Torraca and his team are currently finishing up.

“For me, this sharing of stories adds depth and dimension to this job,” he says.

[email protected]

Emma Quedzuweit
Assistant Editor
Assistant Editor Emma Quedzuweit, who joined the AOPA publications staff in 2022, is a private pilot and historical researcher.

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