Military Aviation


The F-111B monument could take the place of the F-14 Tomcat currently on display

The Grumman Memorial Park will be getting a monument to mark the crash of a F-111B in 1967 that killed two Grumman test pilots.

According to Riverhead News-Review in fact, Riverhead Town Board members gave an informal OK to go ahead with the project which will be a three-ton boulder with a plague affixed on it.

Moreover supervisor Sean Walter also raised the possibility that the existing F-14 Tomcat display at Grumman may be leaving.

However the new monument would honor pilots Charles “Buck” Wangeman and Ralph “Dixie” Donnell, who were killed on Apr. 21, 1967, while testing a General Dynamics/Grumman F-111B fighter jet at the Calverton facility.

A mislabeled switch led to the engine being choked off and when the pilots pulled the ejection handle, it broke off, according to the Naval Aviation Safety Center’s investigation of the crash.

The memorial is proposed for the front of the guard shack, next to the F-14 Tomcat.

Noteworthy the Grumman Memorial Park is about 10 acres, but to date, only about two acres have been developed due to lack of funding.

The F-14 Tomcat that’s been on a pedestal at the memorial park for 17 years “probably needs to come down and go away,” Walter explained, adding that wear and tear on the plane from the weather will eventually make the display unsafe.

He said he learned this from a representative of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, whose name he couldn’t recall. Nevertheless Andy Parton, executive director of that museum, said in an interview Friday that his staff or volunteers would not have said that.

“The issue in the past was that the town couldn’t afford to maintain them, so the museum had sent out volunteers to help with the painting and scraping and we’ve been doing that on an ongoing basis,” explained Mr. Parton.

Most of the military planes on display throughout the country are on loan from the military and “the last thing they want to do is take an aircraft back, because it’s an expensive process,” he said.

However Parton said the museum will continue to help maintain the planes at the Grumman Memorial, which has an F-14 Tomcat on a pedestal and an A-6E Intruder on the ground. The Intruder arrived in 2005.

Robert Macon, deputy director of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., which loaned the planes to the town, said in an interview that the planes don’t necessarily have to come down.

“The Navy has a program where it goes around the United States and will inspect planes on loan,” he explained, adding that more than 1,100 planes are on loan across the country.

Eventually Mr. Macon told that if a plane is on a pedestal and is experiencing structural problems, it can also just be moved onto a ground-based display.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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