Flying Squadron jet grounded for facelift

Published 8:33 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2023

On the campus of Highland Home School, sits a replica F-16 jet – an emblem of the school’s mascot, the Flying Squadron, and a reminder of the school’s 11-member football team who fought for their country’s freedom in World War II. Normally mounted as if flying, the jet is currently grounded in the school’s parking lot, in preparation for a much-needed facelift.

Shelia McElwain, whose father C.J. Faulk helped bring the plane home to Crenshaw County, said work will include a new paint job, a bit of maintenance, and even a surprise for the community.

“We are repainting the jet and doing some maintenance work,” McElwain said. “Then, we will put new lettering on it. We originally put vinyl [lettering] on there, so we’re going to do a stencil in paint this time.”

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The jet was retrieved from Fort McClellan, a decommissioned U.S. Army post near Anniston, and mounted at the school in October 2008 with help from personnel in the 187th Fighter Wing. It was repainted in 2009, but oxidation has faded the paint again, necessitating the facelift and maintenance.

“We will use the same type of paint as before, but this time we will put gloss on top of that,” McElwain said. “We’re hoping that as it starts to fade, we can go back and just put another coat of gloss on it instead of repainting the whole thing again.”

Robert Owens, who is helping with the project, said total restoration costs will fall around $2,000. Organizers are using personal funds to accomplish the work but have opened an account with First Citizens Bank so that community members can contribute to current repairs and fund future maintenance projects.

“We don’t need a whole lot of money,” Owens said. “We just want to make sure it is taken care of in the future.”

Part of the work will involve painting the cockpit, which has yellowed in the sunlight. Replacing it would cost around $5,000, so painting it inside and out is a more affordable option.

“We’re using a high temperature paint to paint the inside,” Owens said. “Then, we will scuff up the outside and paint it with an enamel. We are hoping that will hold up over time.”

Gary Owens, who originally painted the jet blue and gray, will repaint the jet, McElwain said and this time the paint job will be slightly darker too, she noted.

Robert Owens, himself a retired Air Force veteran, said the jet and its accompanying memorial commemorates Highland Home’s veterans and has become important to him and to the community. Representative of the school’s mascot and the veterans for which the Flying Squadron was named, it is a symbol of community pride and deserves the community’s support.

“My kids both graduated from Highland Home,” Owens said. “I still believe in what the Flying Squadron represents and what the memorial represents. I feel like I need to keep ties with it and to help out when I can. We welcome others to help, to donate or purchase a flag for the memorial.”

According to McElwain, her father, who is 89 now, keeps up with the project and reminds her and others of the importance of maintaining the legacy the jet represents.

“Every Memorial Day and Fourth of July, anytime we put out flags, he is there,” McElwain said. “It breaks my heart because he always says, “Baby, you know you’ve got to keep this up when I’m not here any longer.”

McElwain said the project is set to complete just prior to the start of school. When it is finished, passers-by will notice the addition of a new feature which she said is a surprise the community will need to watch to discover. Details of the addition will be released once the work is complete, she said.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the cost of refurbishment or the jet’s upkeep can send funds via Venmo to Sheila-McElwain-1 or make donations to the account “HHS Jet Upkeep” at First Citizens Bank in Highland Home. Any funds received will be used towards the cost of crane rental, paint, painting supplies, stickers, stencils, flags and other associated costs. Leftover funds will remain in the account to support upkeep like the purchase of flags and maintenance of the surrounding monuments.