News: Starfire and Shooting Star land in Camp Johnson Museum
Story by Senior Airman Victoria Greenia
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. - Early on May 5, at a time when the skies are still dark and the road traffic is kept at a minimum, Vermont Air National Guardsmen, with the help of local police and the Vermont Army National Guard, transported the first of two airplanes destined to rest at the Vermont National Guard Library and Museum.
Civilians witnessing the spectacle took photos of the military relic in wonder; after all, it’s not every day one gets to see a 1950s airplane inching down the fast lane. The same group moved a second airplane later, causing a stir in morning Colchester traffic.
Saying goodbye to the Vermont Air National Guard’s static aircraft displays wasn’t easy for some, but Senior Master Sgt. Alan Bouffard, aerospace ground equipment supervisor here, said it was for the best. Although the F-94 Starfire and T-33 Shooting Star (commonly known as the T-Bird) were kept at the Vermont air base, they were actually the property of Wright-Patterson Air Base, and he said that if a new home hadn’t been found for them, they would have been auctioned off, probably as scrap metal.
That, he said, would have been a tragic waste of history and legacy of one of the United States best air bases. Behind the AGE shop where Bouffard works, an F-102 plane rests in retirement slumber. Pointing out craggy holes on its body, he demonstrated why thorough care and preservation were so important for the aircraft.
“Otherwise,” he said, “these aircraft will melt before our eyes, corroded by weather and time.”
An ever-tightening budget doesn’t allow for yearly preservation of the planes which requires money for material and manpower. Snow and rain degrade the exterior of the airframe over time, dirt accumulates, and vermin such as birds and wasps find the shell an agreeable shelter to make a home in.
“Senior Master Sergeant Michael Delphia and I scrambled from March to May drill to figure out how to move the planes efficiently and safely the three miles from the air base to Camp Johnson,” said Bouffard. “We had neither the manuals for these planes nor the appropriate support equipment, but we were determined to see these planes brought to a place that had the means to take care of them the way they deserve.”
Now how to move two planes, roughly 40 feet long and 40 feet wide, down a very busy stretch of road? Although one might think a plane might test the limits of our roads, the weight of one of these stripped airborne vehicles, is actually a mere 7000 pounds (a typical car is around 5,000). Delphia spent hours coordinating with police, town officials, and the agency of transportation, while Bouffard worked the technical challenges of the move. Strategically thinking, the men turned the actual event into a training mission for airmen working crash and recovery.
Every foot of the road had to be measured for width, ultimately leading to a sign being moved, another one slightly turned, parts of traffic blocked, and some slight route deviations for the planes to make their journey. Time consuming, to be sure, but Bouffard and Delphia wanted to make sure the plane didn’t damage any personal property, town signs, or Mother Nature.
Luckily the planes are of similar build with the F-94 being the fighter version of the T-33 pilot trainer. This meant that the basic airframe and landing gear configuration were identical and both aircraft have a tail section that separates to facilitate engine removal. Without the tail and engine the aircraft fuselage was just under 27 feet. Getting the right balance so that the Army Guard’s crane could safely lift and lower the aircraft, particularly without the tail section, took finagling, planning, and re-planning.
Yankee ingenuity filled in when a lack of information left a void, and Vermont airmen created two cradles, one for the plane to rest on while in transit on an 8-foot wide flatbed, and one for the engine. The first was made of metal salvaged from a now-defunct support beam which nestled the body of the craft. The second was designed from discarded plywood to accommodate a round engine which needed a unique platform to be securely transported.
At Camp Johnson’s museum, Carolyn King, a volunteer there, watched the Starfire, come to rest at its new home with Vermont Army Guard vehicles as well as a sister Air Guard plane.
“How are the newer generations supposed to understand what we did if we don’t preserve our legacy?” she asked. “I’ve watched kids investigate these monuments with wonder. They leave with a greater understanding of how Vermonters have served their country for more than half a century.”
She spoke as an older generation who has served in the military; half a century ago she was a radar operator in the Air Force. Her love for her country was instilled in her children, of which at least two are currently serving in the Vermont Air National Guard.
Bouffard and Delphia have taken a personal interest in taking care of VTANG heritage planes. With the F-94 and T-33’s fates handed to the loving care of the museum, they now look to the next challenge of moving the rusting F-102 Delta Dagger.
People at nearby Heritage Aviation have offered a hangar for its use while volunteers work on restoration. Bouffard said that community involvement and more public exposure is a win-win for everyone.
“I’ve watched a man with his granddaughter’s hand in his show her the plane he flew decades ago,” he said. “I could see on his face seeing the model and being able to touch it has brought back memories and feelings from those days. That’s not something you can get from a picture. So when these planes are restored and taken care of, we’re honoring the people who have come before us.”