The Aviation Heritage Park will soon unveil its latest aircraft restoration and hopes to get the go-ahead to bring its next project to Bowling Green.
The most recently completed restoration, an F-111F that restorers have nicknamed “Warhorse,” will be unveiled to the public at the park’s annual hangar party June 15.
Members of the park’s board of directors spoke with the Daily News Editorial Board this week.
Board members hope to be able to transport the next airplane the group wants to work on – a T-38 jet used to train astronauts, including Russellville native and Western Kentucky University graduate Terry Wilcutt – to Bowling Green soon.
“We really wanted some way to honor his remarkable career, and the T-38 was the logical choice,” said Dan Cherry, a member of the Aviation Heritage Park board.
A T-38 has now been allocated to the park, he said.
“It’s going to be a great asset for us,” Cherry said. “It gets us away from the military into space flight, which gives us a much greater, expanded educational opportunity for young people.”
The timeline for the T-38’s arrival is still unclear, he said.
The park had previously arranged to receive a T-38, but those plans fell through because of some complications with the NASA loan process, Cherry said.
“But we’ve been persistent, and we stayed after it,” he said. “NASA realized that we had a good project here. We were honoring one of their own, astronaut Terry Wilcutt.”
The airplane came into the NASA fleet in the 1960s and has been flown by Wilcutt, he said. More research is needed into the plane’s flight history.
“We also are very confident that almost every famous astronaut any of us have ever heard of probably at one time or another flew this airplane,” he said.
More than 2,000 man-hours have gone into restoring Warhorse to look the way it did when it was deployed for a bombing raid on Libya known as Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986, according to Jim Wright, park president.
The restored aircraft will be the central feature of the Aviation Heritage Park Hanger Party at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport. It is set to be moved out to the park at Basil Griffin Park on Three Springs Road in September.
Tickets for the hangar party, which is a fundraiser for the Aviation Heritage Park, are $30 for adults and $15 for children ages 6-12. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets go on sale June 3.
Advance tickets will be available at Ford’s Furniture, Miracle Mattress, Nat’s Outdoor Sports, Morris Jewelry and Barbara Stewart Interiors.
Sponsors at various levels are also still being sought for the event.
On Monday, restorers brought the F-111F out of the hanger at the airport where it was restored and into the sunlight for the first time since the process began, said Arnie Franklin, an Aviation Heritage Park board member who led the 1986 El Dorado Canyon mission flying a similar F-111F.
“We’re very pleased with the way she turned out,” he said.
The F-111F that the park volunteers have restored was flown in Desert Storm and flew in 56 combat sorties – more than any other aircraft of the type in the world, Franklin said.
“Her name is Warhorse because she hauled iron downtown for two different presidents – (George H.W.) Bush, and first (Ronald) Reagan, with the Libya raid,” Franklin said.
The airplane was flown in formation with Franklin during that raid. It was retired to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Arizona, often referred to as the boneyard, in 1996.
The connection to Franklin is an important part of its display at the park, Wright said.
“That’s the whole strategy behind Aviaton Heritage Park is to create this history of aviators in Bowling Green,” he said.
In addition to the display of the newly restored bomber, the hangar party will also feature a reunion of members of the 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, which was Franklin’s squadron during the Libya raid.
Franklin said he’s excited to get his old squadron mates back together.
“I lay awake at night, can’t go to sleep, thinking how much fun this is going to be,” he said.
— For more information about the hangar party or the Aviation Heritage Park, go to aviationheritagepark.com.