The Grove City Council took the next step in bringing a decommissioned F-4 Phantom aircraft to Grove last week, as its members approved the initial piece of a plan to place the jet in front of Ferra Aerospace.

The move, which came during the Tuesday, Oct. 17, was approved by Grove Mayor Ed Trumbull, and Councilmen Marty Dyer, Don Neilson and Josh McElhaney. 

Council member Ivan Devitt was absent.

During the meeting, the council heard from F-4 project organizers David and Beverly Helms and Pete Norwood, about placing the jet on a piece of property currently owned by Ferra Aerospace on Highway 10.

Initially, the group considered placing the jet on the Grove Municipal Airport grounds, however, it was decided to consider placing it on Highway 10, where it would have a greater visibility.

Norwood said Ferra officials wanted to have a plane on display in front of their headquarters, to become part of their "corporate culture" in Grove.

"Their needs met our needs," Norwood said, of the idea of placing the F-4 on Highway 10.

Norwood assured the council that Ferra officials plan to take care of the plane. He said the task-force - backed by the Grove Rotary Foundation - is working to raise the nearly $100,000 needed to transport the phantom from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to Grove.

As of now, Norwood said, the group has raised about $18,000 toward the project, with more funds promised in the event of a shortfall.

“It’s like being pregnant, it’s coming,” Beverly Helms joked.

She said donations have come to the task-force from as far away as northern Idaho.

A family of four has contacted the group, saying they plan to travel from Europe to Grove to see the plane this summer.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Beverly Helms said. This will be an amazing addition for Grove. This F-4 is being donated to Grove by the GSAXces system because of our desire to preserve it in order for it to be of benefit to honor the past and inspire the future.

"It still belongs to every citizen and so we all need to support it by doing our own part to get it here."

Initially, Norwood and the Helms hoped to have the plane in Grove by October. The date has now been pushed back to early 2018.

City Manager Bill Keefer said the property, which abuts Highway 10, must be owned by the city in order to meet state and federal requirements regarding the Phantom’s display.

He reminded the council Ferra officials have agreed to deed the property to the city “for the sole purpose of ‘housing’ the static display.”

If something should change, and the jet not be placed on that property, the land would revert back to Ferra.

Ferra’s agreement also includes mowing and maintaining “the property with the maintenance of the static display and related improvements relegated to the City through the F-4 Project group.”

Dave Helms told the council he is confidant the plane will be well cared for.

“As long as Pete and I are alive, [the plane] will be taken care of,” Dave Helms said.

Council action

During the meeting, council members accepted the quit claim deed from Ferra officials, and the formal petition to annex the tract of land the plane will sit on, into the city limits.

The formal vote concerning the annexation will come during the Nov. 7 meeting.

More about the Phantom

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 Dave Helms began efforts to bring the F-4 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 F-4 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.

The Helms and Norwood have formed the "Friends of the F-4 Phantom.” The costs needed to be raised for the project include $15,000 for initial site preparation, $45,000 for dissembling, transporting, and reassembling the F-4 in Grove, and $40,000 for the development of the rest of the site which includes informational areas, sidewalks, benches, gardens and more.

In order to transport the plane to Grove, Norwood and the 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. In past interviews, Norwood said the jet will come 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.

He told the council members the paint needed for the upkeep of the plane can be purchased over the counter at local hardware stores.

"This is a dream come true for myself," Norwood said, "to rejoin with the 'lady' once more."

Behind the effort

Norwood and Dave Helms discovered the plane might be available for public display while attending a dinner at Holloman AFB last year.

Working with the Grove City Council and city officials, Norwood and the 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 F-4 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 up-close 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."

Other business

The council voted to repair the parking area located on the south side of the community center, which is the main parking for the City of Grove offices.

A preliminary cost of the project is $360,00, which Keefer said, includes the coast of engineering fees.

The council also:

• named Jennifer Harmon, office manager for the GMSA, as the employee of the quarter by members of her department.

• approved hiring Guy Engineering to serve as the city’s bridge inspector, as required by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, to oversee the management of five bridges located within the corporate limits.

• approved a resolution amending personnel policy adding “specific language” requiring employees to to wear seat belts while operating “a vehicle, equipment or machinery that is equipped with seat belts.” The measure was needed to fulfill the requirements of a safety grant.

• approved authorizing Debbie Bottoroff, assistant city manager, with applying for reimbursement through the Oklahoma Quality Incentive Act for the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series on Grand Lake, set for April 26 to 29 in Grove.

• approved the bid for one used bucket truck from Utility One Source, from Bryan, Texas. Their bid of $58,500 will allow the council to purchase a 2010 International 4300 cab and chassis with 53,179 miles and an Altec 1.42 MH utility bucket bed.

• approved the memorandums of understanding from the Monkey Island Fire Department, the Bernice Fire Department, Cowskin Fire Department and Hickory Grove Fire Department for 911 services.