In June 2011, a crane accidentally dropped the Navy’s A-4 Skyhawk while putting it back on its pylon at Alameda Point’s “main gate.” People have various theories about what went wrong, but everyone close to the project would rather focus on the plane’s re-restoration and return.
On December 19, the fighter aircraft, on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, was placed back in its original spot—a fitting celebration to conclude the 2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation.
Built in April 1957, the plane was first delivered to the Stingers Squadron (VA-113) onboard the USS Shangri-La. It took one WestPac cruise in 1958 before becoming a “training bird” for new pilots. It arrived at the Alameda Naval Air Station in 1966 and flew 2,627 hours training pilots in Alameda. In 1969, it was hoisted on the pylon for display at the base’s main gate.
In the following years other squadrons adopted the plane, repainting it each time to match their squadron’s colors. But no one realized the anchor bolts holding the plane in place were deteriorating until February 2008, when a major windstorm lifted the plane up, knocking it off its pylon.
A few Alameda residents, who are former Navy personnel, decided to repair the pylon and restore the plane to its original airworthy state (minus the engines and hydraulic lines). “There is a whole community outside the military and commercial aircraft field that focuses only on restoration,” says Tim Conner, a specialist in such work and an aviation aficionado.
They raised funds, contacted technical sources, and spent over 4,200 volunteer hours to make the plane meet or exceed the original manufacturer’s specs. When the crane accident happened, it was a heart-wrenching experience for all concerned, as it caused more damage than the plane’s fall during the 2008 windstorm.
The crane company has since “made good on its promise tenfold” to fix the damage, said Conner. The plane was restored to “better than new” by many of the same folks who’d worked on it after the 2008 fall. United Aeronautical from North Hollywood provided parts; American Bus Repair (ABR), an Alameda Point company that paints buses and airplanes, again added the finishing touches. Photos of the work were taken every step of the way, and a binder commemorating the Skyhawk’s story will be sent to the Alameda Naval Air Museum.
Dick Rutter, the restoration’s leader and local Alameda Point historian, said the volunteers all feel a connection to the aircraft. “Today much of the military is pushed out to the margins where civilians see it from a distance. Military personnel used to be our neighbors, our friends. Working on the plane brings back memories of times in the Navy and the people who died.”
The ceremony celebrating the plane’s restoration was cancelled after the crane accident in June, but it should be rescheduled soon. Alaero, a Las Vegas company that donated a crucial $1,000 hinge, said their donation came with one caveat—if there is a ceremony, they want to be invited. It’s time to send them an invitation.
Originally published in Alameda Sun