Flying Squadron F-16 resumes flight

Published 2:46 pm Monday, August 7, 2023

Highland Home School’s Flying Squadron mascot, an F-16 jet, resumed flight on Monday after being grounded for refurbishment, and stands ready to welcome students returning to school Tuesday.

The Highland Home Flying Squadron’s mascot, an F-16 jet, is nestled back the in cradle after being grounded for maintenance.

According to project organizer Sheila McElwain, whose father C.J. Faulk was instrumental in bringing the decommissioned plane to the school’s campus, the F-16 received a fresh paint job, new decals, and a surprise passersby will discover tonight after dark.

“Gary Owens, Chase Owens, and Tori McElwain painted the jet,” Sheila McElwain explained. The mascot is now outfitted with slightly darker shades of blue and gray which McElwain hopes will fade more slowly over time.

Highland Home friends and family prepare Highland Home School’s F-16 jet to resume “flight” as the Flying Squadron mascot. Pictured are (on ground) Ricky McElwain; (on plane) Tory McElwain and Robert Owen.

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Volunteers gathered early Monday morning to prepare the plane to resume its place in the specially designed cradle where it sits on the campus. Robert Owen, Gary Owens, Tori McElwain, and Sheila’s husband Ricky McElwain from 6 a.m. until around 10:30 a.m., when the plane was settled into place and bolted down.

Volunteers attach a crane harness to Highland Home School’s F-16 jet to prepare it for lifting into a specially designed cradle. Pictured are (left to right) Gary Owens, Tory McElwain, and Robert Owen.

And, while the jet was grounded for maintenance, students and local residents like two-year-old Sophie Mathis and her grandmother Tina, took advantage of the chance for a photo on and around the newly painted jet.

Sophie Mathis takes advantage of a photo op with the “plane” before it is hoisted back to its pedestal.

McElwain said bringing the jet to the school and keeping it in good condition is important to Faulk, who is a retired military man and whose brother died in combat.

“He’s an ex-Marine,” McElwain said. “He has a brother who was killed on D-Day. He’s all about the military and the community.”

According to Owen, total restoration costs total around $2,000 for paint, parts, and crane rental. Organizers used 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.

Ricky McElwain (standing) guides the F-16 jet as Gary Owens (left) and Tory McElwain (right) bolt it into the cradle.

Owen expressed his hope that alumni and current students will take up the mantle to keep the mascot in good condition, to represent the school and the community with pride.

“We have thousands of people that go by the jet on an annual basis,” Owen said. “We have considered creating a Facebook page so people can submit their photos. Maybe the booster club could help, or a portion of games sales can be contributed towards upkeep. We’re working on maybe getting alumni involved.”


Highland Home School’s F-16 jet is lowered into the cradle. Pictured are (left to right) Gary Owens and Tory McElwain.

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.

Highland Home Schools Flying Squadron F-16 jet takes flight again after being grounded for maintenance and a new paint job.

Editor’s Note: Video footage is accelerated for viewing. Actual time to set the plane spanned the course of several hours.