BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — The scene on Scottsville Road on a recent night resembled a parade for a returning hero, with a police escort accompanying the center of attention and curious onlookers waving and capturing the moment on their camera phones.
The procession was for the General Dynamics F-111, a restored fighter/bomber and tactical strike plane destined for display at the Aviation Heritage Park.
For its final taxi, the plane, also known as "Warhorse," set off from Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport and was towed by a tractor along Scottsville, Three Springs and Smallhouse roads into the park.
"We're making history at three miles an hour down Scottsville Road," park president Jim Wright said minutes before the move took place.
The F-111 aircraft entered service in 1967 with the U.S. Air Force and the fleet was retired in 1998. After retirement, the fleet of planes was stored at an Air Force base in Arizona, which is where aviation heritage park officials found the aircraft.
Last year, the disassembled plane was brought to the regional airport, where it was subjected to a painstaking restoration in anticipation of its final journey to the park, which took slightly more than three hours.
Measuring 73 feet long with a wingspan of 32 feet, the F-111 is the largest of the four planes that have been restored and moved to the aviation park.
The plan for moving the plane was devised about a week in advance, and the plane's travel path was surveyed to make sure the aircraft would clear overhead power lines and roadside signs. At Three Springs and Smallhouse roads, the tractor towing the F-111 had to back the plane onto Smallhouse Road and then into the park.
"We had to take down a fence (at the park), cut a tree, remove the stump and lay down steel plates," Wright said about the process involved in creating an entryway for the F-111 to make it into the park.
The Bowling Green Police Department, Warren County Sheriff's Office, Bowling Green Municipal Utilities and officials from the airport and the park assisted in the move.
Like the three other planes on display at the park, Warhorse has local ties. This particular plane was part of a fleet that engaged in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986, which was led by retired Air Force Col. Arnie Franklin of Bowling Green.
In that operation, Warhorse and other Air Force aircraft launched from a base in England in 1986 to take part in a strike on Libya, an action taken in retaliation for a German bombing in 1986 planned by Libyan officials that killed two American servicemen and injured 79.
Franklin flew the lead plane in Operation El Dorado Canyon as commander of the Air Force's 493rd Tactical Fighter Squadron.
The F-111 that Franklin flew is on display at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, while the restored Warhorse at the park flew on Franklin's right wing.
Franklin accompanied the plane during its transfer from the airport late Sunday night and said early this morning that he was "thrilled and relieved" that the move was successful.
"So many things could have gone wrong. We could have broken down, had a flat tire, but it went just as we had planned," Franklin said. "This was a well-planned, well-executed mission."
Franklin, a member of the park's board of directors, said he hopes park visitors can come away with a sense of the aircraft's history of service.