The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport’s jet-on-a-stick was successfully taken down from its perch and was nestled securely on a trailer Friday afternoon.
Its next journey, after the wings are disassembled, will be to a Park Rapids paint shop where it will be sandblasted and refurbished after 30 years of exposure to the wind, sun and the birds s at the airport’s entrance.
Airport Manager Steve Sievek said that like many projects the reality of the situation turned out to be a bit more complicated than the theoretical planning.
“It was a bigger deal than we thought,” he said.
Sievek said he and the other workers, who began work at 8 a.m. and didn’t pull the jet off the pedestal until about 2:45 p.m., had hoped they might finish the project by 10 a.m. or so. Rust, particularly on a pipe that inserted from the stand into the jet, made the removal of the plane difficult.
Workers eventually used a blow torch to cut through the pedestal to separate it from its stand. About 45 minutes after it was lifted off the stand it was placed on a trailer and temporarily stored behind a maintenance hangar.
“Everyone let out a sigh of relief,” Sievek said, once the plane was lifted off the stand.
The project was completed with the assistance of Dick Dean, who mounted it on the stand 30 years ago. One unusual aspect of the jet is that it pivots in the wind rather than just being mounted in a stationary position. To Dean’s knowledge it’s the only plane that pivots in that fashion. Dean said Friday the airport commission turned him down twice when he suggested a moving jet memorial. He eventually installed it in that manner at his own expense.
Dean recalled traveling to Virginia Beach, Va., to pick up the aircraft with a trailer. On the trip back he just barely made it through the Hampton Tunnel, which goes under a bay of the Atlantic Ocean. The top of jet tapped against the tunnel’s ceiling at a few points as it went through the tunnel.
Also volunteering his time by helping to rig the jet from a bucket truck was Rob Adair. His father, Rick Adair, an airport commission member, operated the blow torch to help free the plane.
At one point Friday morning the 76-year-old Dick Dean boarded the bucket truck and stepped out on to the wings of the mounted F9F6 at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport as if he were stepping out on a patio. He was checking for lifting hooks that potentially could have been used to remove the plane
The experienced towing and salvage operator counseled the crane operator and others during the process. He held his hands apart a set distance to indicate how long a segment of the rear chain should lengthened before one of the efforts to pull it off the stand.
“You can tell this is scientific,” Sievek commented with a laugh.
Mike Petersen, an Airmotive employee who watched the project noted the difficulties of tackling such an unusual job.
“Nobody really knows how to do it,” he said. “There’s no book.”
By Friday afternoon Sievek was just content to have completed the task.
“It didn’t go as smoothly as everyone anticipated but ... it’s done,” he said.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.