3 ON THE ROAD: Hazlehurst F-86L heads to its new home
HAZLEHURST, MS (Mississippi News Now) - It was a pretty big operation last Tuesday as volunteers from the Chennault Aviation Museum in Monroe loaded up the rather rare jet and took it to a new home.
I can't remember a time the old F-86L Saber Jet WASN'T a fixture beside the road at the Hazlehurst VFW post. It had been here since 1968.
It is a Cold War era plane and came from a Cold War era facility. Henry Carney, who publishes the Crystal Springs Meteor, says it came from an old base in Crystal Springs.
"And when it closed, Dr. L.D. Turner, a local physician, hooked his car to this thing and dragged it down here to the VFW post," said Carney.
But the VFW post where is has been housed all these decades closed about a 10 years ago and the facility has gone down as the grounds around it grew up.
The plane was severely neglected.
Len Vernamonti's dad had a great association with planes like this.
"Vandals originally broke the canopy and stole the dashboard instrument panel out of the cockpit," said Len Vernamonti. "What that did was opened up the entire airplane to the rain and the elements and it would have slowly rusted itself away. It would have been worthless. It would have been junk heap."
Whitney Alger who is associated with the Chennault Museum in Monroe is one of those who has driven past the plane for decades and watched it go down.
"Everybody has passed this airplane probably for the last 50 years," said Alger. "And I was going down the road one day and saw the 'for sale' sign out here and said uh oh. She's going to the scrap metal."
It took a bunch of phone calls to the Air Force and getting their name on the list of those wanting an F-86, but the Chennault Museum got it, mainly because no one else wanted to dig it out of the underbrush.
Jim Lang says it will take maybe a year and a half for the volunteers at the museum to completely restore the plane. He admits it could go faster. The volunteers are all old pilots or crew members.
"Many times we get together and just sit around and talk," said Lang. "And my wife says y'all got to be lyin' because there's not that many tales. I said, You hadn't been there and done that. You don't know that."
Well, the story of the retrieval of this old F-86L is another they can add to their repertoire of tales and the story of this plane isn't coming to an end in an overgrown lot off I-55 at Hazlehurst, but starts a brand new chapter in Monroe.
The Chennault Aviation Museum is on Kansas Lane in Monroe, Louisiana. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and the admission is free.
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