Miracle in Muskegon: How the Eagle Group Replicated a MiG 17F Fighter Jet Fuel Cap in Two Days
When a star jet pilot had a missing fuel cap at the Muskegon Air Show, the Eagle Group stepped in to replicate the part in less than 48 hours.
Wings Over Muskegon took place in July, 2023 at the Muskegon County Airport. This interactive aviation experience was a revamped version of the Muskegon Air Fair, and marked the first event of its kind held in Muskegon in 17 years. Spectators enjoyed aerial acrobatics, flybys from iconic planes like the B-52 Flying Fortress, and even rides in WWII-era planes and Vietnam-era helicopters. Our very own John Workman, Eagle Group co-chairman of the board, performed at the event with his formation flying team, the Hooligans.
Another notable performer was Randy Ball, an airline captain and premiere fighter jet pilot. Randy is the only jet demo pilot in North America to achieve an unlimited rating for both day and night aerobatic flying in jet fighters. His plane for the event was the MiG 17F #1611, a Soviet fighter jet that was originally in service from 1960-1990. The MiG 17F was the primary enemy aircraft engaged by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Today it’s known as an ideal jet for air shows: with the right pilot in the cockpit, the jet’s speed and agility combine for an unforgettable spectacle.
When Randy arrived in Muskegon for the air show he found that the fuel cap from one of his plane’s 106-gallon drop tanks was missing. He still wowed the audience with his tactical routine, pulling multiple 7G maneuvers and one 8G horizontal turn. In fact, Randy is the only civilian pilot in North America who does an 8G horizontal 360 turn. “Part of the reason,” he says, “is because I’ve got an aircraft that can do that.” The MiG’s show setup doesn’t include the drop tanks, but they’re needed for longer trips—that meant that Randy couldn’t get the jet back home to the HAMM Museum in Texas without the fuel cap.
Since the Eagle Group’s John Workman was also performing in the show, the organizers reached out to him for help. As an active member of both the local piloting and manufacturing communities, he was able to offer a solution.
John got the remaining fuel cap to Eagle Alloy, where engineers scanned the part using the Keyence VL-550 laser scanner. Eagle Alloy packaged the data into a 3D model file and sent it to Eagle CNC for production, along with the OEM part. Eagle CNC performed further hand measurements down to 2 microns, and created 3D models of the cap and gasket. Then came the production: completing a machining job in such short time frame isn’t easy, but fortunately Eagle CNC was able to pull out all the stops to get the part replicated in a timely manner.
The team started by leveraging long-standing supplier relationships to acquire 5” aluminum billet in less than a day. From the billet, Eagle CNC’s talented lathe operator programmed and cut four versions of the part—two for etching, one to leave unmarked, and one for testing. They also created a custom die cutter for the gaskets. After powder coating the parts, Eagle CNC engineers created laser programs to laser-etch inscriptions into two of the new fuel caps: “МиГ-17F ТОПЛИВО,” or “MiG-17F Jet Fuel.” They also etched something special into the bottom of the caps, but more on that later.
After less than 24 hours, Eagle CNC delivered the new parts directly to the hangar where Randy’s MiG 17F was waiting. Thanks to the replacement parts, he was able to fuel up, seal both drop tanks and jet back to Texas.
The Eagle Group had the capabilities and resources to complete this project on short notice, and we were happy to help. At the same time, we couldn’t resist including a souvenir to help Randy remember his time in Muskegon. While the outside engraving on the fuel cap displays the Russian-language inscription as a nod to the jet’s origin, the inside proudly displays the marks of its maker: “Eagle CNC/ Made in the USA.” And inside that circle: a laser-etched homage to the Hooligans Flight Team.
Tags: Case Study
Written by Jeff Cook
Jeff Cook is Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Eagle Alloy in Muskegon, MI. While enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves, he began working at Eagle Alloy in 1986 as a snag grinder on 3rd shift after his father told him to “Get a job!” Jeff is past President of the American Foundry Society. His passions include educating young people on the careers and advancement available in the metalcasting industry.