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Tomcat fighter lease up for renewal

WILLMAR -- The F-14A Tomcat Fighter on display at the Willmar Municipal Airport has greeted visitors and airport users for nearly 10 years, and the Willmar City Council Public Works and Safety Committee has recommended it continue to do so for at...

WILLMAR - The F-14A Tomcat Fighter on display at the Willmar Municipal Airport has greeted visitors and airport users for nearly 10 years, and the Willmar City Council Public Works and Safety Committee has recommended it continue to do so for at least another five.

The plane is on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, and a lease between the city and the Department of the Navy needs to be renewed every five years. This year marks the second time the lease has come up for renewal, the first in 2011.

"If we were not to approve the renewal agreement, it would have to be dismantled and removed," Public Works Director Sean Christensen said at Tuesday's committee meeting.

The city does not pay anything to have the plane, though it is responsible for maintenance, including washing and repainting it when needed.

"This is to have it here," Christensen said.

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Megan DeSchepper, airport manager, said the plan had been to repaint the plane this year, but the summer ended up being a busy time for the airport.

"We do hope to get it done next year," DeSchepper said in a later interview with the Tribune.

DeSchepper said the plane is an added attraction to the airport and people do stop to take a look. She said it interesting to hear the stories from Navy veterans who flew or worked on the planes.

The F-14 Tomcat was part of the Navy's air support from the 1970s until the fleet of aircraft were decommissioned in 2006, according to Navy media sources. The plane was used as a fighter, a defense interceptor and for tactical aerial reconnaissance. It was first deployed in 1974 aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise and took part in the American withdrawal from Saigon. It also served in Libya, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The last ship to use the F-14 was the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, stationed in Iraq. Today there are F-14s on display across the country.

According to www.f-14association.com , Willmar's plane was delivered to the Navy in December 1979 and served with the U.S. Navy's Strike Fighter Squadrons 211, 213 and 124 before coming to the Naval Reserve Center in Minneapolis in 1999 to be used as a training aircraft. It found itself in storage for nearly five years, before being brought to Willmar.

A public and private fundraising effort raised over $50,000 in 2006 to make the display at the airport possible, according to Tribune archives.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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