HAWKINS — A piece of Vietnam history, a fighter jet restored by two East Texans, started its nearly 1,100 mile journey from Hawkins to Wasta, S.D., on Friday.
Schneider said he had no specific plans for the piece. It sat in his shop for years, until a friend in Kansas called him with a tip that an airport was ready to scrap the back end of the same plane.
“I drove up there with a trailer and sure enough he had it, and he said I will give it to you if you will take it away,” Schneider said.
Schneider and his long-time friend Bill Vawter started the restoration project in February and put on the final touches about two weeks ago.
The plane is made up of pieces from three separate fighter jets and each has its own history.
The cockpit was originally a Marine aircraft, and flew several missions as the “Fanny Hill,” an imfamous book. Schneider said the plane was in a squadron with three others who were also named after scandalous ladies.
“I’m surprised (commanding officers) let (the pilots) do it,” Schneider said. “They probably weren’t supposed to be in the country — overseas, yes.”
Vawter said after a Navy A-4 was crashed, the Fanny Hill was moved over to replace it, but it was eventually returned to its Marine beginnings.
Then “The Marines got tired of it, and it went to the bone yard,” Schneider said. “It was supposed to be chopped up and made into toasters, but part of it didn’t because it ended up in Memphis, in Ohio, and back in Michigan in that guy’s field. It had been sitting there for seven or eight years.”
The two put the pieces together, ground out rusty parts, replaced what could not be fixed and applied several layers of paint to restore it to its days as the Fanny Hill.
Schneider said he could fly a plane before he drive a car, and flew this particular model as a Marine in the Vietnam War.
“I knew how to fly when I was 8 years old,” he said. “I took my first flight when I was seven, and had my private license before I went into the military. I had 200 hours (of flight time logged), and made the mistake of letting my instructor know that — that was the last of me.”
He served from 1961 to 1968, and mostly worked ferrying airplanes to and from various bases, but he spent about eight months at the Chu Lai base in Vietnam.
“This is a Charlie, and I flew a Charlie in (the war),” Schneider said. “I thought I flew this one but the one I flew was 861 (serial number) not 681.
Vawter, a retired Navy aircraft mechanic, said it is very likely he has worked on two pieces of the plane before.
He said when the Fanny Hill was moved to the Navy, it ended up in his squadron, VA 94, an attack Navy squadron which was primarily bomber planes.
The tail section, Vawter said, was always in a navy fleet and spent some time in his sister squadron VA 93, and was in the fleet was Vawter trained on.
Vawter said he could have worked on both of the planes when they were flying around 1965.
“It’s very special for him,” his wife Erma said. “He has really put his heart in it.”
Schneider said he has restored between 12 and 13 planes in his shop, and after this one he is officially retiring.
“I haven’t made any money on them, and I didn’t make any money on this,” Schneider said. “He (the buyer Tom Rancour) went over budget too trying to make it happen.”
But, Schneider said he thinks many will enjoy the static display in its new location.
“It’s going to be nice because it’s up near Sturgis where the big motorcycle rally is every year,” he said. “They are going to go nuts when they see this thing sitting in its place along the interstate. It’s going to be a beautiful display for them.”