The 711th of 712 Tomcats built by Grumman on Long Island in the 1980s and 1990s, that was used in combat missions over Afghanistan and Iraq until 2006, was revealed at its new home on Wednesday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday staff

They opened the hangar doors at the Cradle of Aviation Museum at dawn Wednesday, backing the last Grumman F-14 ever to fly out into the morning light.

The only thing missing was Tom Cruise and the theme music from "Top Gun" and "Top Gun: Maverick."

The jet, which last served aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, had fallen into disrepair, sitting for years on display outside the former Grumman Corporation offices in Bethpage. Now in the final stages of a monthslong, six-figure restoration paid for with donations from Northrop Grumman, it's been painstakingly cleaned of bird's nests and droppings, been sanded down, patched, restored and repainted — wearing markings it wore when it last served with the U.S. Navy.

On Thursday, it will be formally unveiled at a fundraising gala at the museum in Uniondale. Next spring, the plane, nicknamed the Tomcat, will go on display out front of the Cradle of Aviation.

"I think if you're driving by you won't miss it, that's for sure," museum president Andy Parton said Wednesday. "I think this is something people will talk about for a long time."

The 711th of 712 Tomcats built by Grumman on Long Island in the 1980s and 1990s, the F-14D first made its way to the museum restoration hangar in June — acquired after the Nassau County IDA brokered a deal with Prologis, a San Franciso-based warehouse company that was seeking tax breaks from the county having acquired the old Grumman headquarters. The F-14D had been on loan from the Navy to the Grumman retiree's group.

"The fun part," Parton said, "was moving it down Hempstead Turnpike at 11 o'clock at night — all the bars that were still open, everybody coming outside, taking pictures with their cellphones."

An absolute mess

What the volunteer staff at the Cradle of Aviation found when the plane finally was placed into Hangar 5 was an absolute mess.

"It was pretty bad," museum curator Josh Stoff said. "Every opening in the plane was filled with bird's nests."

Peter Truesdell, of Sea Cliff, operates the motorized tractor used to...

Peter Truesdell, of Sea Cliff, operates the motorized tractor used to move the Tomcat to a spot in the traffic circle out front of the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Much of that cleaning was done by volunteer Richard Kalen of Hicksville.

Kalen spent 41 years working for Grumman building Tomcats, as well as working on the Grumman A-6 Intruder, C-2 Greyhound and E2C Hawkeye.

"I started Monday, July 1, 1974, right after graduation from Hicksville High School and BOCES — and worked there until Tuesday, March 30, 2015," Kalen said. "Never took a vacation."

Work done by hand

For three weeks after the F-14D arrived at Hangar 5, Kalen, wearing a respirator and armed with a pressurized air hose and special wire hanger, probed and cleaned nest material and layers of bird excrement from every opening in the Tomcat. Then, he crafted wire mesh fittings and plastic coverings to protect those openings from future intrusion and damage.

"I had to do it all by hand," Kalen said. "I couldn't let anyone else in here, everything was in the air. Then I had to wipe it down with Clorox, every nook. Just to get it ready for paint."

The new F-14D markings now includes a logo with Felix the Cat holding a lit bomb.

Under the cockpit are the crew names: CDR Jim "Puck" Howe, commanding officer, and LCDR Dan Sullivan, "Sully."

Volunteer Peter Truesdell, 59, of Sea Cliff, was tasked with operating the motorized tractor used to move the Tomcat on Wednesday, backing it out of the hangar, then down the parking lot to a spot in the traffic circle in front of the museum.

Volunteers walked just off the edges of the wings to check clearance margins.

"As long as you go slow," Truesdell said, "it's not that bad."

Museum's second F-14

Once it was in place, volunteers stood around taking in the beauty of the old military aircraft.

"Oh, this is great," Mark Loiacono, 68, of Plainview, said — noting his dad, Nick, had helped build F-14s. "My dad worked on every one of these that came out of Grumman Plant 1 in Bethpage.

"I'm glad we've got this."

The Cradle of Aviation has the third F-14 ever built to go along with this one, the last ever to fly — when it was flown to Republic Airport in East Farmingdale from Norfolk, Virginia, back in 2006.

On Thursday, the museum also will unveil a new exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of NASA's Project Apollo, with former astronauts Walter Cunningham, of Apollo 7, Charlie Duke, of Apollo 16, shuttle astronaut and International Space Station commander Bill Shepherd, Deputy Program Manager Holly Ridings and Apollo 13 Flight Director Gery Griffin as guest speakers.

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