06/20/13 10:00am
06/20/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Bob Lawless of Bellport stopped by Grumman Memorial Park with his 5-year-old twin grandsons, Alex and Ayden Labella of Sayville, in May. He said the first thing the boys noticed was peeling paint on the F-14 Tomcat’s nose.

After years of inaction, plans are underway to restore the deteriorating F-14 and A-6E model fighter jets on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton, Riverhead Town officials said.

The park is located on Route 25, near the Route 25A intersection, on the former Grumman Aerospace Flight Test Facility property. It was created to commemorate advances in aviation and aerospace that took place on Long Island throughout the 20th century and opened in 2000, thanks to the volunteer efforts of the nonprofit East End Aircraft group.

Since 2008, the town has assumed all responsibility for site improvements and maintenance and public access to the property. But the aircraft there, on loan from the U.S. Navy, have become chipped and weathered — one even has birds nesting on it.

In August 2012, in response to a Navy inquiry, the town indicated it was in the process of requesting estimates for repainting both planes, according to Heidi Lenzini, spokesperson for Naval History and Heritage Command.

Nearly a year later, following concerns raised by Calverton civic members and a News-Review article in May highlighting the condition of planes, the town is now making good on its promise to maintain and protect the aircraft.

“We’re not exactly in the business of restoring historic aircraft,” Riverhead Town engineer Ken Testa said. “It’s a special type of work and it’s not something our staff is trained to handle. We didn’t mean to disrespect anyone by letting it fall in to disrepair. It was a matter of funding.”

The last time the planes were painted was in 2007, according to Pat Van de Wetering, who helps maintain the park.

The town is now partnering with Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, which has agreed to provide expert volunteers to paint, repair and power wash the aircraft free of charge. The town will be required to pay only the cost of materials, Mr. Testa said.

No date has been set for the repairs, he said.

“Should persistent problems not be resolved in a timely fashion, National Naval Aviation Museum may resort to repossession,” Ms. Lenzini said in an email response to a News-Review inquiry.

And repossessing the aircraft could cost the town more than the paint job.

In accordance with the loan agreement between the town and the Navy, the repossession process would require the town to pay for dismounting and disassembling both planes and transporting them to the National Naval Aviation Museum, in Pensacola, Fla., or to another qualified borrower, Ms. Lenzini said.

Aircraft loan agreements are normally for five years, with options for renewal. The current loan for these aircraft expires August 1, 2015, Ms. Lenzini said.

There is a repossession already in progress elsewhere in the U.S., Ms. Lenzini said, but in that case, the aircraft are scheduled for disposal.

The Navy has 78 F-14 variants and 46 A-6 variants on loan to various entities across the country.

The Navy leases the planes to commemorate and promote its history while ensuring the aircraft are preserved.

“Typically the parties involved work toward that end,” she said.

cmurray@timesreview.com