Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >Fighter jet from war in Vietnam at museum

Leader staff writer

Every military museum should have a famed fighter-bomber on its lawn. Now, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History has its own.

On Sunday, a Vietnam-era F-105 Thunderchief aircraft rolled (yes, on its own wheels) into Jacksonville where it now sits imposingly on the expanse of grass in front of the colonial-style building. Around 7 a.m., the trailer pulling the plane set out from Camp Robinson, escorted by police. The wings and tail had been removed for the trip through Sherwood and Gravel Ridge and into Jacksonville. It arrived three hours later, at 10:22 a.m. to be exact.

The plane, which had been on display at Camp Robinson, will be on permanent loan from the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

During the Vietnam conflict, the F-105 Thunderchief – nicknamed the “Thud” – played a prominent role in strikes against launch sites of enemy surface-to-air missiles directed against U.S. bombers over North Vietnam.

“That plane was a workhorse in air-to-ground bombing,” said Col. Mark C. Vlahos, vice wing commander of 314th Airlift Wing at the Little Rock Air Force Base, and member of the museum’s board of directors. “This is a neat moment for the Jacksonville Museum of Military History. To be able to obtain the plane took the efforts of many people.”

Vlahos said the museum’s board worked for more than a year to acquire the plane, but that the main credit goes to members Bill Kehler and Joan Zumwalt, who helped see the idea to completion.

One major step in the long process was gaining approval to house the plane. That required certification by the United States Air Force Museum, and involved a rigorous review process.

“We were investigated top to bottom, all our financial documents and procedures, to make sure we were up to snuff and met Air Force standards for taking care of their artifacts, because technically the plane belongs to the Air Force,” museum coordinator Danna Kay Duggar explained.

“If we wanted to get an Army tank, we’d have to go through a similar process,” she said.

It will be several months before the plane, which is in need of some paint, is spiffed up and looking its best.

“She is kind of ugly right now; the paint job will be done as weather permits,” Duggar said.

According to Vlahos, volunteers from LRAFB plan to restore the aircraft’s original Vietnam-ear camouflage next spring.

It will then be mounted on a 15-foot-tall pedestal.

Moving the plane to Jackson-ville also helps out Camp Robinson, which has four other planes on display.

Lending one out reduces the costs associated with maintenance and security, Duggar said.

The museum is also “on the list” for a C-130 cargo plane.

That must wait until one is retired from active duty; Vlahos anticipates that happening next year.

The museum will then have two historic planes on its lawn.

The more information about the F-105 and directions to the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, visit www.jaxmilitarymuseum.org or call 241-1943.