Retired fighter jets given face-lift

Grumman F9F-8 Cougar was restored mostly by volunteers Grumman F9F-8 Cougar was restored mostly by volunteers for $3,000. The project was slated to take four years but was completed in 19 months. (May 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Photo by Air and Space Museum

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Volunteers from the Cradle of Aviation Museum descended on Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton to touch up two jet fighters that have been on public display for years and are showing signs of aging.

As they power-washed and scraped the flaking paint off the Grumman-made planes Friday, Andrew Parton, executive director of the Garden City museum, explained that Long Island's humidity, cold and snowy winters can do a lot more damage than hot, dry combat zones.

The work was, essentially, a patch job, fixing exposed areas. A comprehensive refurbishment plan has to be worked out.

On Friday, as cold wind blew across the open fields of Calverton, a half-dozen volunteers crawled and walked over and under and around an F-14 Tomcat, once the U.S. Navy's primary protection against enemy air attacks. They also pored over an A-6E Intruder attack bomber that had served in many climates, from the scorching heat of deserts to the world's storm-tossed oceans.

The volunteers used pressure hoses and wire brushes so the grime and flakes could be removed and the surface repainted.

"It's the Long Island weather," explained Parton. "It's the snow."

Town of Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who met Parton at a meeting and asked for his help in dealing with the problem, said no one in town knew how to properly repaint a Navy jet fighter.

This type of Grumman F-14 went into service in 1972 and was phased out in 2006. The A-6E fighter-bombers served from 1972 until they were retired in 2005. Those planes were test flown at Calverton before being turned over to the Navy.

As the men worked on the planes, Fred Bauer, 60, stood back and smiled. Living in Texas, Bauer visits the 1-acre Grumman Memorial Park at Calverton whenever he returns to Long Island. "I don't like to see the history of Grumman die . . . My father, Fritz, worked on those planes," he said.

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