Grove's Ferra Aerospace recently had a groundbreaking for its new $2 million plant expansion and at the same time work is also progressing on the F-4 Phantom Memorial located adjacent to the plant. Ferra specializes in the manufacture and assembly of complex aerospace structures and subsystems and is a supplier to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.
The components manufactured by Ferra are linked directly to the F-4 Phantom that sits outside its front doors. Today Grove workers build components for the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters and the Boeing F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet, both fighter jets are designed for ground-attack and air-superiority missions, which was the same mission as the F-4.
In late September, a ceremony was held to dedicate the newest addition to the F-4 site, a 40-foot flagpole. As Pete Norwood stated, “There is no such thing as a simple flag raising. Each flag-raising represents the thousands of men and women who have given their lives for our freedom."
The F-4 Phantom jet is surrounded by emotions. There are many who served in Vietnam who credit the jet with saving their lives. Just as you would be forever grateful to someone who has saved your life, many veterans credit the F-4 fighter pilots and the jet for laying their path to freedom when they were trapped in combat.
The F-4 first began as an Air Force fighter in 1961. During the war in Southeast Asia, the jet claimed victory in 277 air-to-air combat missions. In 1967, 72 Phantom jets were produced every month. The aircraft was in demand around the world. Israeli pilots claim they have shot down 116 aircraft with the F-4. Today, none of the F-4 Phantoms remain in service in the USA. After they were taken out of active combat service in 1996, many were used as drones for target practice.
When the jet was first considered, it was not exactly a proud bird. It sat disassembled, without landing gear in the dust of the desert of Davis Monthan AFB Arizona from March 1990 to July 1995. It was rescued and restored by the Crash Damaged or Disabled Aircraft Recovery at the Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico. It was there that Grove Rotarians Dave Helms and Pete Norwood saw the F4E 71-0247 fighter that now sits proudly outside Ferra Aerospace’s front door.
Their idea of relocating the once-proud fighter and bringing it to Grove was easy. But getting governmental permission, finding the funds to repurpose the jet and transporting it to Oklahoma required many hours of work.
It took a year, before Pete Norwood, former Air Force F-4 pilot, and David Helms, former Air Force airframe structural specialist, and Beverly Helms established Friends of the Phantom, to try and accomplish the feat. In order to obtain the F-4, the group had to get the approval of the Grove City Council and have letters of support. Since the project is funded completely by private donations, there continues to be a need to raise funds as well.
After a year of paperwork as well as support from Holloman Air Base who restored the original paint scheme, the proud jet was transported to the site. The jet arrived on February 26, 2018.
Dave Helms envisioned and designed the site to allow access by any citizen. Grove Rotarian and former Huey pilot, Bob Brogdon was very instrumental in site preparation. Now the group also includes former F4 pilot and aviation engineer, Otto Maynard, all working on finishing the site including the informational plaques.
“We were awarded the plane based on our history of patriotism and the letters of support from the city and citizen, like the Grove Civil Air Patrol unit, the VFW and American Legion, Bob Brogdon and others, who really put us over the top,” said Beverly Helms, of the original project team.
Her husband David Helms noted, “We have people coming from all over,” even international visitors including a couple from Luxembourg. To many veterans, the Phantom was the ‘sound of freedom.’ Our goal is to reach out to any veteran who has experience with the F-4 and have them contribute their story for the memorial. We want this to be a living memorial that people can touch and hear about in the first person.”
The Grove F-4 is also known as both 71-0247 and 71-1247. It was first flown on Oct. 12, 1972. It was first assigned to the Seymour Johnson Air Force base in North Carolina where is served for seven years. The jet was then transferred to Spangdahlem, Germany in 1979. The jet returned to the United States in 1988 and was sent to train pilots of the Wild Weasel at George Air Force base in California. A year later, the jet was transferred to Tonopah Test Range in Nevada as part of NRFT RATSCAT. It was retired in March 1990 and transferred to Davis Monthan in Arizona. In 1995, she was transferred as a CDDAR trainer to Holloman AFB until Feb 26, 2018, when it arrived in Grove.
Some additional funds are needed to complete the landscaping and blast shield. Contributions can be made through the Grove Rotary Foundation; PO Box 452286; Grove, OK 74345, with all donations going to the 503c non-profit. No taxpayer money is being used toward the memorial, and any funds raised will go to completion of the memorial.