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Airport Archives: Airports Plane is A Symbol of Freedom

Airport’s plane is symbol of freedom
Staff Writer, Brainerd Daily Dispatch

To some it’s just a plane sitting on a pedestal at the entrance of the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Airport.

To others it’s a symbol of our country’s freedom.

The unique aspect about the Marine jet is that it is the only plane in the country, and possibly the world, that swivels and points its nose into the wind. But getting the plane to Brainerd and the history behind the jet is a story in itself.

Getting permission to obtain the plane was no problem. It came free of charge as long as it was to be placed on public property for public display. Getting it to Brainerd caused a few problems, however, but all were solved with a little American ingenuity.

Dick Dean, of Dean’s Towing, was called on to pick the plane up at Virginia Beach Naval Air Station in Virginia. Although he was told it couldn’t be taken apart and transported by truck, he felt it could be done and took off to Virginia to pick it up. The plane had hydraulic wings used for aircraft carrier transport, but Dean got it broken down and loaded onto a low-boy gooseneck trailer for delivery back to Brainerd.

The plane is a Grumman Marine F9F Fighter, first developed in the early 1950s. The particular model at the airport is a swept wing, according to Tom Dunlap of Brainerd, who flew the F9F in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He said the straight wing Panther model was used during the Korean War.

“The true air speed of the jet was about 420 knots (485 m.p.h.) but it could go faster,” Dunlap said. “It wasn’t a supersonic jet, but it could break the speed of sound if it was taken up to about 35,000 feet and nose dived. The plane was considered fast in its day, but is considered slow by today’s standards.

“The unique thing about the plane is that it had a back-up for the back-up system, meaning that if the emergency back-up system failed, another system could be implemented to get the plane back down to the ground. It was also the first plane designed to eject the pilot through the canopy if the plane had to be aborted.”

Dunlap was in the Marine Corp for more than 20 years and spent most of the time flying jets, although he flew a helicopter in the Vietnam War. “The plane was used as a combat fighter in its early years,” he said, “but served a dual role during the Korean Was as a fighter and an attack plane. As a fighter, it had four 20 millimeter cannons built into its nose, but as an attack plane, bomb racks and rocket rails were added to it. Later a system was implemented to allow the plane to be refueled in flight.”

Now retired, Dunlap said it was “a very forgiving plane. It had no hidden tricks and it wouldn’t ‘bite’ you when the going got tough. It was an honest aircraft.”

Bringing the plane from Virginia to Minnesota caused a lot of problems. Because it was 14’ 6” in height and 11 feet wide loaded, Dean had to reroute much of his trip because some states wouldn’t allow it on their highways. “Along the way I had to take different routes because the load wouldn’t fit under bridges,” Dean remembered. “Some times I actually scraped the bottom of underpasses, but we made it.”

Dean thought it would be great if the plane would be able to rotate in the wind once erected. At first the airport commission denied that request because it had never been done, Dean said. “John Riedl Sr. advised the commissioners to allow me to give it a shot, but I would have to do it all at my own expense.”

To mount the plane allowing it freedom of movement, a special bearing had to be made and predetermined fitting had to be constructed. The bearing used weighed 2,400 pounds, according to Dean. The plane was lifted by a crane and stood on its edge and a pipe was welded into the bottom of the plane which would act as the recipient to the main pipe sunk into the ground. “There are no bolts or welding holding the two pipes together. It can be lifted right off the main pedestal.” The total weight of the bearing and base adds 3,000 pounds to the plane which in itself weighs about 10,000 pounds.

It takes about a five or ten mile per hour wind to turn the nose of the plane into the wind but the actual movement of the plane is hard to detect because winds normally change gradually. “The plane doesn’t help pilots judge the wind direction when they come in for a landing,” said John Riedl Sr. “The pilots use radios and the wind socks located near the landing strips for landing.”

Riedl said the plane is completely stripped of instruments and guns and is basically only the shell of the original plane. At one time thoughts of lighting it with landing lights was discussed, but it was felt that it may cause unnecessary problems at night with a highway so near to the plane.

A close look at the plane shows a steel cable hanging from the end of the plane. “I put that on myself,’ Dean said. “By hooking it and turning the plane away from the wind direction, I can actually see it turn back into the wind.”

Why did Dean become so interested in the plane and want it to be fitted onto a swivel? “I thought of the people who have died fighting for America and wanted it to represent the freedom of our country. If it was fixed in place, the plane wouldn’t have its freedom. By mounting it so the plane had mobility, it had the freedom to turn, like we do.”



Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport
16384 Airport Rd, Suite 5 · Brainerd, MN 56401-5852 · 218-825-2166