Saturday, September 28, 2013

'War Horse' ready for taxi

The restored F-111 aircraft that was unveiled in June at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport will make its way Sunday to its permanent home at Aviation Heritage Park on Three Springs Road.

Moving the plane is the culmination of nearly a year of work since the F-111 arrived at the airport last October from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Phoenix, where it had been sitting in the boneyard, a storage space for retired planes. The aircraft, affectionately known as the “War Horse,” was reassembled and restored at the airport, where it has sat completed for the past three months.

“It’s been a long year, but at the same time, it’s been a very fulfilling effort,” said Arnie Franklin, a retired Air Force pilot and a member of the Aviation Heritage Park. “We know that Bowling Green and the surrounding area will be very proud when we get it out there.”

Franklin’s right wingman flew the plane during the El Dorado Canyon mission in 1986 that raided Libya, for which Franklin was mission commander. The plane was also part of more than 50 missions during the Gulf War before being retired in 1996.

Aviation Heritage Park officials had to wait until now to move the plane because of the lengthy planning and preparation needed to transport such a large aircraft, he said. At 73 feet long with a wingspan of 32 feet, it’s the largest plane the group has ever moved. 

At 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the “War Horse” will be towed by a tractor with the tow bar connected to the plane’s nose gear.

“Since it can’t be pulled under its own power, we’re going to tug it,” said Jim Wright, president of the Aviation Heritage Park.

The tractor hauling the plane will turn from the airport onto Scottsville Road and then onto Three Springs Road to the park. The convoy will include personnel from the Bowling Green Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Bowling Green Municipal Utilities and the airport.

The tractor is unable to pull the F-111 more than 3 mph, so it could take two to three hours to transport it, Wright said. The late time was chosen to avoid traffic and cause as little disruption as possible.

To make the plane easier to transport, its wings will be swept back and its nose, called the radome, will be taken off, Franklin said.

The pad where the aircraft will sit in the park had to be modified because the plane is so big, and the chain-link fence in the park was taken down temporarily in order to move the plane into place, he said. Steel plates will also be arranged on the ground of the park to act as a taxiway. Otherwise, the aircraft would sink into the ground because it’s so heavy.

Once the plane is in place, the nose will be reattached and a sign will be put in front of it, Franklin said.

Those tasks should be completed within a few days of the plane’s arrival at the park.

Aviation Heritage Park officials plan to have a dedication ceremony to celebrate the plane’s arrival at the park, though the date hasn’t been determined, Wright said.

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