Warplane honors 3 aviators

  • Don Ricci paints a kill symbol on an F-105 Thunderchief at the Pacific Coast Air Museum on Thursday morning, August 6, 2009. The plane is being dedicated to Major Cliff Cushman, who was killed in action in 1966 in Vietnam, Major Bob Huntley and Captain Ralph Stearman.

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.?

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