The aircraft was shiny, beautiful and bigger than any car Diana Balboni of Sterling had ever detailed or would ever detail in her life.
The massive hunk of aluminum was the first Air Force One presidential jet at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, and Balboni had been invited with 34 others to clean it as part of the Air Force One Detailing Team, which annually launches a preservation mission on the jet. Balboni recently returned from the project.
The team also began restoring a Boeing 787 Dreamliner Series No. 3, one of three test planes valued together at more than $2 billion. They also cleaned the only air-worthy Douglass DC-2 and shined the Concorde Alpha Golf.
“It was, oh my goodness, an honor. Never in my wildest dreams,” she said. “An Escalade doesn’t look too big anymore. Once you work on an aircraft that size, the rest of it is easy. What stood out was the beauty of the aircraft. All the aluminum on the underside and around the engine. When they first went out to work on this plane [the Boeing], they were literally going to repaint it because they didn’t think they could ever restore the beauty of the plane. That to me was the beauty.”
The presidential jet was used by Henry Kissinger and presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson, to name a few notables.
One of five women on the 34-person team, Balboni hasn’t always been in the detailing business, and planes aren’t her usual.
Born and raised in Texas, Balboni spent much of the 70s and 80s in southern California as a car saleswomen. It was there she saw detailing in action. The man who cleaned the cars, someone perhaps unnoticed by the majority, fascinated Balboni.
He would take something old and abused and make it new, or as close to new as possible.
It wasn’t until February, after moving to Texas again and finally making her way to Virginia in 2006, that she retired and received training in detailing from Renny Doyle, a master level detailer in automotives and within the private/corporate jet industry.
In March, she opened her Sterling detailing business, N2 Details, cleaning and polishing cars of all type.
“You take a car and get it back to nearly almost showroom condition,” she said, describing her work. “There have been cars that have maybe been abused or haven’t been taken care of and pampered. It’s like taking your car to a spa.”
Whether it’s an inside or outside job, steaming the upholstery or waxing the body has gotten greener than when she watched her first mentor in California, who used chemicals harmful to the car, the detailer and the customer.
When a client tells her they barely recognize the car after she’s worked on it and they lose it in parking lots from the change, Balboni gets a thrill she never got when working in auto sales.
“My passion happens to be, that sounds kind of funny but, cleaning and customer service,” she said. “The work that I did before I retired I didn’t have any really huge interest. It’s amazing how you can take something you’re really interested in and that’s where I spend my time whether looking at new ways or products or vehicles…I’ve always loved cars but this is now giving me me that chance to just expand and learn the most I can.”