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By Linda Emley
If you ask anyone in Richmond where the nearest airplane is, they’ll tell you
it’s at the city park. We all know it’s there but the question is how and when did it arrive in our city park?
This is what the Richmond News had to say on April 11, 1966: “A T-33 Jet airplane, in use until a few days ago by the U.S. Air Force, is now the center of attraction in the Maurice Roberts City Park. The plane is sitting in a grassy circle at the crest of the hill in the center of the park, ready to be flown by small-fry pilots. How it got there is related by Jim Swafford, a member of the parks board.”
It all started back in 1965, when the Richmond City Parks Board decided it wanted an airplane to park in our park. The Richmond Rotary Club took on the task of getting an airplane. Dr, George Davault started making phone calls to the U.S. Air Force in February 1965, but soon found out that the Air Force would only donate a plane to an American Legion post, a VFW or a city.
The local American Legion agreed to accept the plane, so a plan was set in motion to secure one.
Doc Davault wrote a few more letters and finally received notification that a plane was being decommissioned and would soon be ready for its trip to Richmond.
Walter Rogers, Jim Swafford and Dr. Davault drove to Richards-Gabauer Air Force Base in Grandview on March 28, 1966 to meet the Lockheed T-33 that would soon be making its final journey to Richmond. They worked out all the details and got ready for the next step of moving it from Grandview to Richmond.
On April 6, Howard White and Jim Swafford went back to Richards-Gabauer to get training on the proper assembly of a T-33 aircraft because the plane would need to be disassembled for relocation.
The following day, April 7, 1966, at 6:30 a.m. a convoy left Richmond. The volunteers all knew it would be a long day, but no one knew how big this job was really going to be.
So how many guys does it take to move an airplane? Only five if you have the right men for the job. Eldon Harrison, Paul McBee, Bill Davis, Roy Wrisinger and Jim Swafford were the men assigned to pick it up. They had one truck donated by Ray County Implement, a truck with a trailer that belonged to Waller Truck Line and a tractor that belonged to Davis Construction Co. They also had a supply of equipment that would be needed like rope, chains, lumber, blankets, wire, tools and old mattresses.
Now this is where all the hard work starts. The plane had been taken apart and was broken down to around 50 pieces. Our crew loaded up all the parts in less than two hours – compared to the more than eight hours needed to load the last donated USAF plane. Our guys were not wasting any time because they were heading home by 11 a.m.
The concrete pad had previously been pored and was waiting for Richmond’s plane to arrive. Some of the men at Richards-Gabauer had offered to come down on the weekends to help put the plane together. They said it would take three weeks of Sunday afternoons to get it done, but they would be glad to help. They never got the chance to help because the town folks of Richmond had already made their mind up they could handle the task of putting it back together.
Here’s an update in the Richmond News of April 11, 1966: “Upon arriving in Richmond at 1:30 p.m. Thursday the group was soon met at the city park by a host of people to help, including Gordon Jacobs with his crane. At 5:30 p.m., the plane was completely assembled except a few screws and bolts, and set on concrete pads poured by Charles Day several days before.”
The Richmond News article listed all the people of Richmond who helped bring our plane here. It truly was a town-wide venture. Those that helped were: Harrison and Davis Construction Co., Ray Co. Implement, Waller Truck Line, Wrisinger’s Auction Store, Jim Ralls Co., Missouri State Highway Patrol, White’s Repair Shop, Richmond Police, Derstler Lumber, Swafford’s Ford Sales, Gordon Cupps, Bill Davis, Eldon Harrison, Howard White, Dr. George Kermit Davault, Paul McBee, Charles Day, Walter Rogers, Gordon Jacobs, Clinton Swafford, Jim Johnston, Al Henningson, Kenneth Holland, Fred Swofford, Jim Henry, Bob Swafford, Jack Waller, Bernard Cordray, Andrew Phipps, Jim Swafford and the Richmond Rotary.
The airplane that sits on the crest of our park’s hill is a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star that flew its first flight in 1944. It was used by the U.S. in the Korean War and by more than 20 different nations over several decades. It was known as a trainer aircraft because the two-seater capacity was used by flight instructors to train new pilots. This plane was phased out by the U.S. Air Force in the early 1960s. Some were donated to museums and towns like Richmond, but others were sold to third-world countries to be used by their air forces. There are a few still in working order used for air shows.
This plane had a maximum speed of 525 mph with a cruising speed of 455 mph. It had a range of 1,000 miles and could fly at an elevation of 45,000 ft. There were two .50-cal. machine guns in the nose for those that actually saw battle.
The Shooting Star was used by the aerobatic flying team known as the “Arcojets” from 1948 to 1953. This group was an early version of the world famous Thunderbirds aerobatic team.
Our park plane now has a fence around it but that was not always the case. Like many others from my generation, I climbed in and looked around. I remember sitting inside and wondering where our plane had been. If only this plane could talk, I’m sure it would have stories to tell about its days of cruising the skies.
When I look at it now, I wonder how many children have looked at it and dreamed of being an Air Force pilot. Flying a jet plane is one of the joys of life that few of us will every know, but it sure does not hurt to dream. Since we live in the modern world of video games, anyone can feel the thrill of flying a plane like the T-33 Shooting Star without even leaving Richmond.
The 1966 Richmond News article ended with the following statement: “We sincerely hope children of all ages visiting our city park will enjoy it as much as the people involved enjoyed working on it.” I think this statement has stood the test of time because 46 years later, we all still enjoy driving through the park and checking on our airplane. The last time I checked, it was still sitting there waiting for another generation of “small-fry pilots” to discover to fun of visiting our Maurice Roberts City Park.
You can contact Linda at email@example.com or see her at Ray County Museum during regular business hours.