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Alameda Point jets getting makeover

Submitted by on 1, July 14, 2010 – 5:00 amNo Comment

Rendering of A-4 Skyhawk, post-restoration. Courtesy of Mark Baird.

By Janelle Bitker

Two jets that have long greeted visitors to Alameda Point are getting a makeover.

A trio of local airplane enthusiasts has been working since May to restore an A-4 Skyhawk blown off its pedestal at the Point’s Main Gate during a February 2008 windstorm, and the city removed the A-7 Corsair that sat at the Point’s Atlantic Avenue gate for restoration last week.

“The jets are the perfect mix of the history and future of Alameda,” said Nanette Banks Mocanu, finance and administration manager for the city’s Development Services Department. “It’s important that they look good and be a nice welcoming at the gate.”

Mark Baird, Tim Conner and Dick Rutter make up the team of airplane enthusiasts who are doing the job, which will cost an estimated $70,000.  Rutter is a former Navy pilot, local history enthusiast and architect with A. Rule Designs. Conner has a background with the Navy and has directed aircraft restoration for the USS Hornet.

Baird, who maintains his own pair of planes, has been an airplane enthusiast for as long as he can remember. While he has never completed a restoration of this scale, Baird helped restore a biplane when he was 14, the same age he began flying.

“My mom told me that as an infant, I would look up at airplanes with fascination in my eyes,” he said.

The Navy lent the jets to Alameda when the city took over the Naval base, and as part of this arrangement, the city is responsible for taking care of the planes. After the Skyhawk fell, the city realized that the Corsair could suffer a similar fate.

“That was a wake up call that the jets could not be neglected,” Baird said.

The Corsair was brought to the Island by a landing accident in the early 1980s and the Skyhawk has a similar story. The latter plane was in the same squadron as Eugene Cernan, the last man to have walked on the moon.

“It’s an interesting connection and he may have flown this particular one,” Baird said.

To honor the Cernan connection, the Skyhawk will be painted in its 1957 squadron’s colors — white with a thin blue swoop and black lettering. The Corsair will probably be repainted in its current colors — Navy gray with a white underside and a red squadron marking — unless the restoration team can find something particularly interesting in the jet’s history that merits a different color scheme.

Previous jet crew members’ names will be painted on the canopy frames on both planes. And for an Alameda connection, former Mayor Ralph Appezzato’s name will be painted on the Skyhawk’s nose.

“We’re going to memorialize him, as he was one of our more popular mayors,” Baird said.

Some of the money will pay to repair the pylons that support the planes as well. Mocanu said that the Skyhawk fell because of the way it was fastened to its pedestal.

“We had to fix that because otherwise, on the next windy day, the planes will want to fly,” she said.

The team has scoured the nation for original parts and information about the planes, securing the donations of a port aileron, wing tip and starboard aft main gear door to aid their restoration efforts.

Mocanu aims to have both planes back on their original pedestals in six to eight months. Baird, however, hopes to have the Skyhawk done in September but expects the Corsair to take at least a year.

“There’s a lot of corrosion damage,” he said. “It’s the first time anyone has touched them since they’ve been put up.”

The team will work to maintain the jets after their restoration job is done.

“They’ve been ignored for too long,” Baird said. “We will work to keep them clean and inspect them over the years, so if problems arise, we can fix them.”

The team is looking for more information on the Corsair, whose bureau number is 154362. If you’ve got more information about the jet, contact Baird at mark.baird@airportkid.com.

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