Wingless and its bubble cockpit covered with white cloth, the first jet fighter that was scrambled during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks arrived Tuesday at the Sonoma County airport, where it will become the centerpiece of a 9/11 memorial.
The McDonnell Douglas F-15, flown by a pilot with the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was the first of a dozen planes that were the U.S. military's initial response to the terrorist attacks, said Thomas C. Reed, former Secretary of the Air Force.
"What was really important was all this chaos was going on and here was the U.S. Air Force with F-15s over New York and later over Washington," Reed said. "It said to the people that you can go ahead with the recovery, there won't be any more attacks."
The plane, with a Revolutionary War "Minuteman" emblem stenciled on its tail, was unloaded from a trailer at the Pacific Coast Air Museum at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
"Coming from New York, it means a lot to me, I have an emotional connection," said Cloverdale Mayor Carol Russell, one of about three dozen people who stood quietly in a light rain. "To me it is a symbol. I'm touching something that was there that day."
The plane was donated to the museum by the Air Force, which decommissioned the F-15 three years ago and put it into storage at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., known as a boneyard for old planes.
The Sonoma County airport museum hopes to raise $250,000 to restore the jet fighter, create a display dealing with the aviation history of 9/11 and build the only memorial to the attacks outside of New York and Washington, D.C.
"The exhibit we hope to build will honor those who perished that tragic day and honor those who responded that heroic day, our generation's Pearl Harbor," said Dave Pinsky, the museum's executive director.
Pinksy said the museum backers have raised $6,000 to $7,000 to begin planning and are seeking proposals from contractors who build museums.
"We know the funding will be hard, but we think patriotism and civic pride will come to the fore," Pinsky said.
<NO1><NO>The museum exhibit will also attempt to recount the aviation history of 9/11.
After the first plane hit the World Trade Center, the F-15 piloted by Col. Tim Duffy was dispatched from the Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, trailed by a second plane.
Together, they initially flew a pattern just off of Long Island while the military was trying to assess what was happening.
"They knew that the buildings had come under attack in New York and there was an attack in Washington," Reed said. "These guys got up there and they had to put together a plan for air cover on the fly."
The pilots had instructions to bring down any plane that deviated from its flight plan and was suspected of being hijacked, but it was otherwise a situation for which there were no game plans, Reed said.
From offshore, Duffy could see the smoke coming from New York City and was actually flying over the first World Trade Center tower as it was collapsing.
Duffy patrolled for six hours, refueling from an airborne tanker and escorting about 100 planes out of New York airspace, Reed said.