Aviano airmen help move '50s-era fighter plane to museum
PORDENONE, Italy — Thanks in part to some airmen at Aviano Air Base, a classic jet fighter will finally get a permanent home.
At least that’s the plan.
A Hawker Hunter, commissioned for the Swiss air force in the 1950s, has been sitting at the fairgrounds in Pordenone for several years. The plane, which was built in the United Kingdom but never saw combat, has most recently been kept at the end of a parking lot that gets crowded when the fairground buildings are in use.
“It’s amazing to see something like this — and not in a military museum in the States,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Wojtalewicz, assigned to the 31st Operation Support Squadron at Aviano.
But if everything goes according to schedule, the jet fighter will soon be in a museum — the Associazione Museo Storico Aeronautica Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Giovanni Follador runs that museum on the other side of Pordenone, and he’s the one responsible for getting the plane into the country. The Swiss were getting rid of outdated aircraft and OK’d the donation to the museum in Italy. The price tag? A bottle of wine.
But since a pilot flew it from Switzerland to Aviano almost a decade ago, there have been a few delays getting it to the museum.
Follador, speaking with translating help from his daughter, Alessia, said it had to sit at the base for about five years before it was cleared through Italian customs. He said officials were worried it still could be used as a fighter — and that’s not something that the country permits. Eventually, with the help of a few Italian generals, the plane was cleared.
It was then loaded onto a truck and taken south to the fairgrounds for an exhibition. During that initial move, the plane — which appears, on quick inspection, to be ready to fly again — was essentially grounded, because fuel lines were cut as the wings were taken off.
Follador, a licensed pilot for more than 50 years, has been wanting to move it to the museum. But he needed help.
That help came in the form of Wojtalewicz, who lives next to the Folladors in Pordenone.
“I thought it was going to be simple, but it’s turned out to be a complicated project,” Wojtalewicz said.
There’s the timing. Getting together a group of volunteers necessary to take off the wings and a few other parts in order to move it again hasn’t been easy. A spell of rainy weather hasn’t helped. A basewide exercise this week means another delay. And finding someone who’s familiar with the plane has been difficult. There are warning signs and labels on various parts on the aircraft, but they’re all in German, French and Italian.
Wojtalewicz said he placed an announcement in the base newspaper, the Vigileer, looking for help. And he received a lot of replies. But over the past few weeks, meetings have been rescheduled several times. And now he’s going on temporary duty elsewhere.
So Capt. Ed Eisenhauer, assigned to the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, will head up efforts. It is hoped the move will be next week. Any and all volunteers are welcome, said Eisenhauer, who can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“How often do you get a chance to do something like this?” Eisenhauer said.
Giampietro Follador said he remembers when the plane flew into Aviano on a snowy December day during which the base’s planes weren’t flying. He said the plane will be a centerpiece at the museum that his father manages. It’ll be the only complete, formerly functional plane there. But there’s plenty of other equipment and memorabilia on site.
“He’s very passionate for aeronautical stuff,” Alessia Follador, a professional snowboarder, said of her father.
So in a few weeks, the museum will have the aircraft on display. Visitors won’t be able to fly it, but they won’t have to part with any wine to see it.