RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The T-43A Gator, the "flying classroom" that served the training needs of the combat systems officer training program at Randolph for 17 years, was retired last month, but will soon be more accessible to the base community than before.
During the early morning hours of Nov. 6 - and likely throughout the day - the last remaining T-43A, known as "The Spirit of San Antonio," will be towed from the east flightline across the Hangar 12 north parking lot and Fifth Street East to its permanent home on a circular pad across from the base operations building.
John Howry, 902nd Civil Engineer Squadron landscape architect, said the aircraft, which is a version of the Boeing 737, will be a prominent landmark on the base's east side, resting on three reinforced concrete piers above a bed of river rocks.
"It will look like it's floating above the rocks," he said. "It will be the largest aircraft on static display at Randolph. It will be out where everybody can see it."
The process to move the 29-ton trainer jet and precisely place it on the three piers within the pad will pose a logistical challenge for 12th Flying Training Wing maintenance division personnel.
"It will be a unique challenge for all of us," said John Rowand, T-43/T-6 production supervisor. "It will take no less than eight to 12 hours. Just getting the jet positioned perfectly could take quite a bit of time."
The T-43A is still being prepared for the move, an operation that includes cleaning the aircraft, draining all its fluids, securing its flight controls and access points, closing the wheel wells and "bird proofing" it to prevent birds and other small animals from entering the structure, said work leader Willie Ramos.
"The preparation is time-consuming, but not difficult," Mr. Rowand said.
The greatest challenge will be positioning the massive aircraft on the piers, maintenance personnel agree. The aircraft's nose will point to the southeast for the most visual impact.
"We have to get it set the way the engineer and contractor want it," said mechanic Paul Hamm.
Mr. Howry said the T-43A's route to its final destination will also have to be prepared. That process will involve removing about 100 feet of fencing north of Hangar 12, using a series of curb ramps on Fifth Street East to facilitate the move and placing iron plates from the west curb to the piers to protect the ground from the weight of the aircraft. A live oak tree near the site will have to be removed because it is in the aircraft's path. A portion of Fifth Street East will be closed for the duration of the move.
Mr. Howry said the static display's landscaping plan, which will be implemented once "The Spirit of San Antonio" is in place, calls for large river rocks to be placed within the 53-foot-radius circle, which will be surrounded by a sidewalk, and the site to be lighted. A pedestal will bear a plaque explaining the significance of the aircraft.
"The plaque will present the past history of the aircraft," Mr. Howry said.
The T-43A, which served the 562nd and 563rd Flying Training Squadrons during CSO training's 17 years at Randolph, was officially retired following a fini flight last month. The names of the members of that final aircrew - Lt. Col. Peter Deitschel, 562nd FTS commander; Maj. Jeff Welborn, 562nd FTS director of operations; Capt. Paul Fiasconaro, 562nd FTS executive officer; Lawrence Humphrey of URS Corp. T-43A Pilot Services; and Chip Ivey, 12th FTW maintenance division crew chief - are permanently inscripted on "The Spirit of San Antonio."
CSO training has moved to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., where the 12th FTW's 479th Flying Training Group is using the T-1A Jayhawk and the T-6A Texan II to prepare the next generation of combat system officers.