BRUNSWICK, Maine — John Vandal has all the time taken pleasure in his work.
Throughout his 20 years within the U.S. Navy, the retired Petty Officer First Class helped preserve the fleet’s birds within the air.
“I’d repair an airplane that was down, one they mentioned couldn’t fly,” Vandal mentioned. “Then, I’d watch it take off and I’d have the satisfaction of understanding I did that — I made it fly. There’s nothing flawed with arduous work.”
Now, years after his retirement, the 56-year-old remains to be working with pleasure.
On Thursday, Vandal stood atop a ladder patching a gap within the fuselage of an previous, twin-engine P2-Neptune airplane which has sat beside the entry street to the previous Brunswick Naval Air Station since 1970. Out of time and misplaced, the corroding Chilly Warfare-era relic has stayed put for greater than 50 years whereas the world modified round it.
The Navy base is gone. Instead, a thriving enterprise and residential park is arising across the aircraft. Now, the previous hen is in the way in which. As a housing improvement encroaches on its long-occupied house, workmen have already run into it with heavy tools.
Vandal is aware of the previous submarine hunter won’t ever fly once more however he must preserve the uncared for aircraft in a single piece lengthy sufficient for a fledgling air station museum to lift the estimated $350,000 it should take to repaint, restore and transfer the aircraft to security.
“Oh, I can do it. They instructed me I’d by no means be capable of get these bomb bay doorways off so I might patch the holes in them,” Vandal mentioned, pointing to the aircraft’s aft stomach. “And I mentioned, ‘Maintain my beer.’”
Vandal’s drink-holding efforts are value it. The aircraft is a crucial piece of state, city and nationwide historical past. It’s a priceless artifact, linking the previous to the long run.
“We now have loads of children on the market who don’t know the bottom even existed,” mentioned Scott Miller of the Brunswick Naval Aviation Museum, which is simply down the road from the P2-Neptune. “We have to save this aircraft so they are going to know, even after we’re lengthy gone.”
Miller is hoping to lift funds to get the aircraft a contemporary paint job after which transfer it to a shiny greenspace subsequent to the museum. The large aircraft will have to be partially disassembled for the transfer.
The redevelopment authority accountable for remodeling the empty base right into a thriving financial hub has been so profitable at its job that few indicators of the Navy servicemen and ladies who lived and labored at Brunswick Naval Air Station stay. The P2-Neptune is an exception.
The huge aircraft is unattainable to overlook. That’s a part of what makes it so essential.
Constructed someday within the Fifties, the 91-foot aircraft’s wings span a full 100 toes. Although in determined want of a paint job, Navy Patrol Squadron VP-21’s brand can nonetheless be seen on its nostril. The jaunty image reveals a successful, 21-point blackjack hand with a jack and the ace of spades.
The Navy base opened throughout World Warfare II, in 1943. It was formally decommissioned in 2011. Throughout that point, it was house to low-and-slow flying squadrons, together with VP-21, which patrolled the North Atlantic, searching for Russian submarines.
The P2-Neptune had a big, underbelly radar system and will deploy floating sonar buoys. Along with these sub-detecting methods, it additionally featured a plexiglass nostril cone the place enlisted males would sit for hours, scanning the ocean for periscopes with binoculars because the aircraft flew only a few hundred toes above the waves.
The aircraft Vandal is engaged on was parked on the base shortly after the P2-Neptunes had been changed by the P3-Orions in 1968 — the identical yr VP-21 was disbanded.
Apart from letting the following technology know the bottom existed, the P2-Neptune can also be essential to veterans who as soon as served there. Vandal mentioned that they’re all the time stopping by after they see him on the market engaged on it. They typically thank him for doing it.
“It’s touching, it truly is,” mentioned Vandal. “I adore it when vets thank me for my service — as a result of I can say the identical factor proper again to them.”
An previous good friend of Miller’s, Vandal lives in Massachusetts however comes up on weekends to work on the aircraft. Again house, he’s additionally a volunteer driver, shuttling different veterans to numerous appointments.
As Vandal labored on Thursday, a black SUV slowed, then got here to a cease subsequent to the P2-Neptune.
A stranger named Peter Carro received out and walked over to the previous Navy airplane. Carro then ran his hand over the radar bulb on the previous hen’s stomach.
“I labored on that,” he mentioned. “I labored on all of them that got here by means of right here, again within the 60s.”
Throughout the road a person in a truck stopped and yelled out his window.
“Hey, you’ll be able to’t park there,” the person mentioned, earlier than including a string of expletives, waving his arms in frustration.
Vandal shook his head in disbelief.
However Carro barely glanced up. He was misplaced in secret reminiscences.
“You understand the place the loos are on this stuff?” the 70-something Navy veteran mentioned. “There ain’t none.”
Carro then set free a stomach chortle which lasted half a minute.
Vandal joined him, then received again to work.