By Robyn L Minor
Four vehicles carrying the Aviation Heritage Park’s next exhibit are expected to arrive in town late Friday afternoon.
Trailers are hauling the largest plane planned to be on display at the park: an F-111 flown on the 1986 raid on Libya led by Bowling Green’s Arnie Franklin, then an Air Force lieutenant colonel. Franklin’s wingman flew this aircraft during the 1986 Libya raid.
“She’s big,” board member Bob Pitchford said, excitedly anticipating the plane’s arrival.
The Aardvark, as it’s called, is 73 feet long and 32 feet wide at its wings when intact.
The plane Franklin flew in the raid is on display at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, but Franklin, who is president of the Aviation Heritage Park, did actually fly this plane in earlier missions.
Park board member and historian Ray Buckberry said the plane also dropped the last bomb of the last night of Operation Desert Storm, shattering a bunker believed to hold Saddam Hussein, after having flown more than 50 missions in that arena.
After flying its last mission in 1996, the plane was taken to Davis-Montham Air Force Base in Phoenix and moved to an area known as a boneyard, a graveyard of sorts for decommissioned military aircraft.
Buckberry doubts that other aviation buffs recognized the significance of the plane or it would not have been in a boneyard for so many years.
Park Executive Vice President Dan Cherry said planes are taken to such places when they are decommissioned. They can be used for spare parts or sometimes sold to ally countries.
That wasn’t the case with F-111s, however. If sold, they are required to be shredded and melted for scrap, so this plane sat basically intact, minus the engine, Franklin said.
And because parts of the plane were covered with a protective wrap, the exterior is in good condition, Cherry said.
It still will require some restoration, which will be done while it’s housed at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport.
The cockpit also is pretty much intact, which means board members won’t have to hunt for salvage parts.
Franklin said they worked out a deal with the Air Force to leave the faceplate of the cockpit.
“Because there are no parts out there for this plane, it would have been difficult to re-create,” he said.
The plane left for its newest home, where it will be on permanent loan, on Tuesday.
Cherry said it will cost about $55,000 to disassemble, transport and reassemble the plane, money the group has raised with its hangar parties.
The plane will be unveiled in June at the next hangar party before being moved to the Aviation Heritage Park on Three Springs Road.
Before that can occur, there are some improvements that need to be made on the pad where the plane will sit, Pitchford said.
The pad will be reinforced with concrete and made wider to better accommodate the plane.
Meanwhile, the park board continues to work with NASA to get a plane representative of one that would have been flown by astronaut Terry Wilcutt, a Logan County native.
Once Franklin’s F-111 is in place, there will be four spots remaining for other planes.
Franklin said it will take three days to put the plane back together once it arrives in Bowling Green. It is being shipped in six major pieces and other panels. The public can see the work being done near the airport terminal building on Causey Field.
It had been hoped that the plane would arrive early in the day Friday, but travel was delayed because of construction in Texas when the extra-wide load had to be routed off sections of the interstate.
Franklin said if the plane can’t get here before dark Friday, it will be Monday because oversized loads can’t be on the road after dark and Tennessee and Kentucky prevent their travel on weekends.