If all goes as planned, an F4 Phantom may soon "land" in Grove, ready for permanent display.
On Wednesday, June 21, organizers Pete Norwood and Dave Helms, updated community leaders at the weekly Grove Rotary Club, about plans to bring - and install - a decommissioned F4 Phantom in Grove.
The jet, which took its first flight on Oct. 9, 1972, is currently based at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, in the "Crash, Damaged or Disabled Aircraft Recovery Unit."
Until Norwood and Helms began efforts to bring the F4 Phantom to Grove, it was slated to be used as a ground target for drone pilots.
Until December 2016, the U.S. Military used the F4 Phantom as part of its air defense. While no longer in use in the states, the jet is used by pilots in Iran, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.
Helms and Norwood have formed the "Friends of the F4 Phantom." Working in conjunction with the newly established Grove Community Foundation, efforts are underway to raise the $100,000 needed to transport it from Holloman AFB to Grove.
This will be the first project for the foundation, which formed through the Grow With Grove Initiative.
In order to transport the plane to Grove, Norwood and Helms will work with a trucking company. The jet will be broken into three sections: the fuselage, tail and wings.
Once in Grove, it will be reconstructed and placed on display. Initially it was destined for the Grove Regional Airport.
However Norwood said, officials at Ferra Aerospace in Grove, have indicated a desire to place the jet on display near their headquarters on Highway 10, east of downtown Grove.
Norwood said nothing has been finalized, as of this week, but he anticipates the jet will be placed somewhere on the Ferra campus, in order to become part of company's "corporate culture."
Norwood said the jet comes in an almost "pristine condition." Air Force officials will give the city everything but the engines, the ejection seat, the radar and the 20 mm Gatling gun.
Norwood said Chandler Crane in Grove has pledged support to help offload the jet once it reaches its final destination.
"This is a dream come true for myself," Norwood said, "to rejoin with the 'lady' once more."
Members of the Civil Air Patrol in Grove have pledged support in helping to maintain the jet once it is on display.
Grove City Manager Bill Keefer said if an agreement is made with Ferra officials, the piece of land the jet sits on will need to be owned by the city. The Ferra facility currently sits just on the edge of the Grove city limits.
City officials have also pledged to support the effort by providing in-kind donations of labor to prepare the site as need. No direct funding for the project will be provided by the city.
"At the end of the day, the goal is to have it as visible as possible," Keefer said, of the the possibility of placing the jet on Highway 10.
Norwood said Ferra's support, would help provide for long-term care for the jet.
"This will be something we are all proud of in the long run," Norwood said.
If funds are raised this summer, Norwood and Helms hope the jet will be brought to Grove by October.
About the effort
Norwood, who once flew the F4 Phantom, said the jet truly "becomes part of you" as it is flown.
He and Helms discovered the plane might be available for public display while attending a dinner at Holloman AFB last year.
"It started with one phone call," Norwood said with a laugh. "We called the guy in charge of the disposal, who gave us a name. We followed the telephone trail."
Working with the Grove City Council and city officials, Norwood and Helms discovered the jet could be given to a municipality, on permanent display - as long as land belongs to the city, and the jet is maintained.
Norwood said the city won the rights to the jet because people demonstrated, through a letter writing campaign, "a burning desire to get it, and not just to put it on display, but also [use it] as a teaching tool."
Of the 5,200 F4 Phantoms built by McDonnell Douglas, only 200 are left in the United States. Norwood said most are destined for the chopping block.
"This will give us a piece of history for our area," Norwood said, adding that the display will allow people to get an upclose and personal view of the jet. "This jet is an interesting statement of our National Policy. When people saw it on the horizon, they knew we didn't come to play.
"We want to bring a piece of this heritage to northeast Oklahoma. We want to preserve a piece of history."
About the F4 Phantom
Tail Number: 71-0247
Jungle colors with shark teeth
First Flight: Oct. 9, 1972
Basing History includes Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina, Spangdahlem AB in Germany, Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona, and Holloman AFB in New Mexico.
How to help
Funding for the F4 Phantom project is being funneled through the Grove Community Foundation.
This is the first project for the new foundation, established earlier this year by the Grow With Grove team.
Donations may be made by mail to P.O. Box 451557, Grove, OK, 74345-1557, or at the Bank of Grove, account number 0003008216.
Did you know?
The F4 Phantom was often used to "lay a path to freedom" for troops fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
Beverly Helms, a member of the Friends of the F4 Phantom, said veterans learning of the plan to bring the jet to Grove often become emotional, as they recount it impacted their lives.
One told Helms that he knew, "once he heard the sound of the F4 coming," his path to freedom would be possible.
"It's not just an airplane or a piece of military hardware," Helms said. "For so many vets, it's a member of the family. It's like a living brother or son."
Pete Norwood said many troops called the F4 Phantom the whistling death, because of the whistling sound that would be made before the "boom" of the bombs.