Jet fighter comes in for Reserve landing

Published 12:02 am Saturday, October 29, 2016

RESERVE — When U.S. Navy Lieutenant pilot Hal Loney last exited one special F-11 Tiger jet fighter, he did so because it malfunctioned during takeoff in 1967.

Fast forward almost 50 years and Loney got another chance to see the aircraft in the glory he knows it deserves.

Restored to pristine condition, the plane is prominently displayed at the entrance of Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport in Reserve.

During an unveiling ceremony Oct. 13, Loney said having the jet fighter restored “helps preserve history and bring awareness, especially to the youth of America, as to why we have the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Alongside the fighter jet sits the airport’s new electronic message board used primarily to display public service announcements.

The plane’s “flight” to Reserve was a curious one and started Oct. 10, 1967, when it malfunctioned during a flight demonstration at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station New Orleans, known today as Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans.

The aircraft lost power during takeoff and came to rest beyond the end of the runway. Fortunately, as an experienced pilot with 2,000 flying hours and 300 aircraft carrier landings under his belt, Loney was able to get out safely, and the show he was performing in continued.

The Navy wrote the fighter off as a complete loss and it was offered to NAS New Orleans to serve as an entrance display, where it remained for approximately 35 years until replaced by a more contemporary aircraft.

The aircraft was acquired in the 1990s by a group of aviation enthusiasts from St. John the Baptist Parish, who were interested in constructing a military museum at St. John Airport.

The museum never materialized, but the aircraft remained mounted on an elevated podium at the entrance to the airport.

In 2010, the Port of South Louisiana acquired the airport and eventually acquired the sponsorship rights to the aircraft from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. In partnership with the National Naval Aviation Museum, the fighter was restored to its former glory.

“Sitting on its pedestal at the entrance to our airport, this authentic Blue Angels fighter jet has become a landmark to the River Parishes community, especially our military veterans, including my brother Edsel Aucoin, who was a naval flight surgeon for 13 years,” Port Executive Director Paul G. Aucoin said.

Airport Director Vincent Caire said it was wonderful to be part of a project that means a great deal to the community.

“My father was from Edgard and was a Naval Aviator, which gives me even more pride in completing this project,” he said.