A restored F-105 Thunderchief warplane is being dedicated by the Pacific Coast Air Museum to three aviators who flew a similar plane over Vietnam.
One of the aviators, Air Force Major Cliff Cushman, was killed during an air strike near Kep, North Vietnam, in September 1966.
The other two, Major Bob Huntley of Albuquerque, N.M., and Capt. Ralph Stearman of San Antonio, Texas, were among the first to fly 100 ?Wild Weasel? missions, in which they flew into North Vietnam to intentionally draw missile fire to find the firing sites.
?It?s a pretty rare bird, 833 were made, 382 were shot down. It is a pretty rare aircraft to have,? said Don Ricci, who was one of the air museum members who spent two years working on the plane. ?To have one restored here is a special thing.?
As part of the dedication, Ricci, a Santa Rosa fire captain, has painted Cushman?s name on the right side of the aircraft.
On the left side, Ricci has painted the Red River Showboat nose art that had decorated the plane flown by Huntley and Stearman.
?We are taking the aircraft, telling the story of Cushman, Huntley and Stearman through this aircraft,? Ricci said.
The Thunderchief was a fighter-bomber built by the Republic Aviation Co. and in service from 1958 to 1984.
It was built in single- and dual-seat versions, was capable of flying twice the speed of sound and flew over 20,000 missions during the Vietnam war.
?It was big for a fighter, but it was extremely fast,? said Dave Pinsky, director of the air museum and a former fighter pilot. ?If you were being chased, no other aircraft of that era could keep up with you.?
Pinsky was in flight school at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Ala., in 1961 and 1962 with Cushman, who was a world-class athlete who had won a silver medal at the Olympics in Rome in 1960.
?I knew him really, really well. He was in the room next door to me for 15 months. We ate together, we ran together, he took pictures of my wedding,? Pinsky said. ?He was an outstanding pilot.?
Cushman was shot down during an afternoon mission over North Vietnam, but it has not been determined whether he died from injuries in the crash or was killed afterward. His remains were not recovered.
Ricci said that Stearman and Huntley were selected to be honored after Ricci met Stearman, who used to live in Windsor, at a previous air show.
?I noticed a guy walking around the aircraft, the way he was touching it, looking at it, you could tell he had a connection,? Ricci said.
The restored F-105 is a two-seat version that was made in 1963 and served as a trainer in the United States and in Europe.
It will be one of the featured exhibits at the museum?s annual Wings Over Wine Country Air Show Aug. 15 and 16 at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
Stearman and Huntley will both be at the air show to talk about the plane and the missions.
The show will include flights by the Air Force and Navy in the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the C-17 Globemaster III and the F/A-18 Super Hornet jet aircraft.