The Perfect Landing Spot

Seizing a rare opportunity, the Port of South Louisiana chose to preserve a piece of history and decorate the entrance to its Executive Regional Airport with an original, restored Blue Angels Jet.

The aircraft is undoubtedly majestic, though its soaring days are over. Perched upon a pedestal for all to see and admire, it looks as it did the first day it took flight. Once labeled a “complete loss,” it is now a “front door,” according to Port of South Louisiana officials – a welcome mat with serious wow factor.

Passengers and pilots flying out of the Port of South Louisiana’s Executive Regional Airport in Reserve will have reason to turn their heads once they enter the ground, passing a completely (not to mention beautifully) restored Grumman F-11 Tiger Blue Angels fighter jet at the entrance road. In conjunction with the National Museum of Aviation in Pensacola, Florida, the Port sponsored the aircraft and poured in $27,700 toward its restoration.

Port of South Louisiana Executive Director Paul Aucoin aptly declared the authentic Blue Angels jet, “a landmark within the River Parishes community.”

“We’re very proud of the restoration of the airplane and our partnership with the National Naval Aviation Museum,” says Airport Director Vincent Caire. “It’s a very historic aircraft for our nation. It welcomes our guests at the entrance of the airport.

“I believe this restoration is also an expression of thanks to all of our veterans,” Caire continues. “It welcomes tenants and customers traveling on Airline Highway to the Port of South Louisiana Globalplex and Marine operations. We have come a very long way, transforming the airport from a general aviation field into a competitive business aviation facility that provides vital economic support to the entire River Parishes region.”

The restored Blue Angel was an original member of the 1967 flight team, and was flown in airshows across the United States and Europe for the U.S. Navy demonstration squadron. Blue Angel #6, as it was known, was one of the team’s solo aircraft that flew in partnership with solo aircraft #5, along with the famous Blue Angels “Diamond Formation” of four jets. Dazzling the audience during an October 1967 air show at the now-named Joint Reserve Base New Orleans in Belle Chasse, the Blue Angel accelerated for take-off, then lost power and came to rest at the end of the runway. Thankfully, the pilot suffered only minor injuries, and the show went on with a backup jet flying in place of the #6.

The plane, however, wasn’t as fortunate.

Though the damage appeared to be repairable, the U.S. Navy classified the jet as a total loss. Instead of shipping the plane back to Florida, where the other Blue Angel planes were stationed, the NAS New Orleans was offered the aircraft as a display, and the jet remained as a monument beside its entrance gate for more than three decades.

From there, a group of airplane enthusiasts acquired the Blue Angel with plans to display it as a centerpiece for a military museum on the St. John Airport, now renamed Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport. Even with best efforts the museum foundation was not able to complete the task. In much the same manner as the Belle Chasse facility, these enthusiasts placed it on an elevated stand near the entrance. When the Port fully acquired the operational rights to the airport a few years ago, restoring the Blue Angel to its original glory was one of many ambitious projects on tap in the “Master Plan” for the facility.

In addition to restoring the Blue Angel, the Port also oversaw several other upgrades to the airport. In 2011, the Port received funding to extend the airport runway from 4,000 feet to 5,150 feet, allowing larger corporate aircrafts to land in the River Parishes. Larger Jet-A fuel tanks, an improved lighting system and an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) were also installed on site. The Port unveiled an updated terminal in 2015, complete with vastly improved lounges for pilots and conference or meeting rooms for passengers wishing to conduct business as soon as they step off the plane.

“Blue Angel #6” now greets Port guests upon entrance to the Port region on Airline Highway and symbolizes the much anticipated future development of the Executive Regional Airport.
 

By William Kalec

Categories: Maritime