TUPELO, MISS. (WCBI) – Every weekend, a diverse group of people gather in the back lot of Transport Trailer in Tupelo. They are there to help restore this F 105 Thunderchief Fighter Plane for public display.
The group is made up of veterans and others who want to do something to help preserve this piece of history. Plans call for the fighter to be displayed at Veterans Park in Tupelo once it is refurbished.
“It’s going to be a tribute to all veterans but in particular, Smitty Harris from here in Tupelo who was shot down , POW Gene Smith from down in West Point, Columbus area, it’s a tribute to him, they both were shot down in this same type aircraft,” said Mike Armour, a volunteer.
This plane arrived earlier this year from Lackland Air Force Base. It was used extensively during the Vietnam War. In fact, this photo shows the fighter, tail number 199, in action.
During the Vietnam era, more than 800 F 105 Thundrechiefs, or Thuds as they were nicknamed, were produced. Nearly half were lost during combat operations or accidents. The aircraft played a vital role providing support for U. S. troops.
Its ability to fly fast and low made it invaluable carrying out numerous missions against Viet Cong targets.
Some of the volunteers for this project are with the Armed Forces Support Network, from the Caterpillar plant in Corinth. Wade Cornelius is with Caterpillar and is a retired aircraft maintenance officer with the Air Force.
He says it’s an honor to work on the project.
“All of our members who are coming down to volunteer are very patriotic. Most of our capability is making things that didn’t look like they were going to work, to make them work and run better than some of the new product,” Cornelius said.
Of course, refurbishing and preparing the Thunderchief is not cheap. The entire project has a price tag of around 60 thousand dollars. About half of that has been raised. Money still must be raised to paint the plane and for its display pedestal. Volunteers are hopeful the F 105 will be ready for the public by Memorial Day.
Donations for the project are being handled by the CREATE Foundation. www.createfoundation.com