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Port of South Louisiana will maintain, restore ‘landmark’ jet fighter

The Blue Angel aircraft that has become a true landmark at the entrance of the Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport isn’t going anywhere — though that was anything but certain until a recent deal was brokered.

The 54-mile port, which encompasses St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes,  recently acquired the sponsorship rights to the plane, taking on the job of its restoration and upkeep and allowing it to stay where many feel it belongs — permanently mounted on an elevated podium at the entrance to the airport.

“We are very proud of this honor and look forward to completing the restoration of this historic aircraft.

Sitting on its pedestal at the entrance to our airport, this authentic Blue Angel has become a landmark within the River Parishes community,” said Port Executive Director Paul Aucoin.

The plane is an original Grumman F-11 Tiger jet fighter that flew with the U.S. Navy flight demonstration team in 1967. The port will fund the entire restoration project at a cost of $27,700.

The Port of South Louisiana acquired the airport from St. John the Baptist Parish in 2010 and began exploring routes for repair and restoration of the historic aircraft.

According to PSL airport director Vincent Caire, if the port was unable to assume the cost of taking care of the plane, the only option left would be to contact the National Naval Aviation Museum—all former Navy aircrafts remain the property of the museum—and asks its representatives to take the plane.

“But because we’re restoring the plane, they’re not going to say, ‘good job, we’re moving it to Cleveland,’” Caire said. “Asking them to take it would be the last thing we’d want to do.”

The aircraft will be restored to its original Blue Angels configuration, as it appeared when performed in air shows throughout the United States and other parts of the world, including Europe.

“This is a plane that’s traveled all across the globe,” Caire said. “You can go on YouTube and see it flying around.”

On Oct. 10, 1967, the aircraft was the victim of a malfunction during a flight demonstration at Naval Air Station New Orleans, today known as Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans. The aircraft lost power during takeoff and came to rest beyond the end of the runway.

The pilot suffered minor injuries, but was able get out of the jet safely. The show was completed with the use of a backup aircraft.

Although the jet received significant repairable damages, the Navy wrote it off as a complete loss. Rather than dispose of it or return it by truck to the Blue Angels home base at NAS Pensacola, Fla., it was offered to NAS New Orleans to serve as an entrance display, where it remained for approximately 35 years until replaced by another more contemporary aircraft.

After its removal, the aircraft was acquired by a group of aviation enthusiasts from St. John the Baptist Parish in the early 1990s. These individuals had expressed interest in constructing a military museum at the airport.

Unfortunately, after years of attempts and the loss of key members, the museum did not materialize. Port of South Louisiana acquired the airport from St. John the Baptist Parish in 2010, and it was renamed Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport in 2015.

Caire said the work on the plane has already begun and the restoration will take place in three stages: assessment of what is needed, repainting and adding pieces that need replacement.

“Replacing the different parts is the trickiest thing, because you have to fabricate them. They don’t make those parts anymore,” Caire explained. “You can’t find them, unless you’re lucky enough to find another F-11 laying around.”

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