With the wings of one of the last surviving F-14 Tomcats safely delivered to the Museum of Flight, the next step is figuring out how to get the fuselage from its berth at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Virginia to the nonprofit based at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport in Floyd County.
"We're looking at over the road but it's a super-load, which is even more complex to arrange than the wings, which were classified as an oversized load," said Christine Lewis, director of the Museum of Flight.
Plans are to reassemble the supersonic fighter plane for display at the museum, which houses an array of historic aircraft and military memorabilia. Lewis and her crew have already made four trips to the national museum in Richmond to bring back parts. In March they successfully detached the wings, which were picked up and delivered Monday.
Lewis said Scott Logistics Corp. took care of the permits for the oversized load and donated 10 percent of the transportation cost. Lee Bagley of Maloney's Tree Service contributed his crane to lift the wings off the flatbed truck.
"People in Rome totally stepped up to help us get this done," she said Wednesday.
The fuselage will be an even bigger challenge, and the F-14 Tomcat Association is hosting a Go Fund Me page for the museum's expenses. Lewis said they're also talking with the U.S. Air Force about having it delivered by a C-5 Galaxy cargo plane as a training mission. A C-5 is larger than the runway is rated to support, but she said one has landed there in the past.
"There's no room for it to turn around, but they can push it back down the runway and then it can take off. It is possible," Lewis said. "But there's a lot of red tape, a lot of government applications to fill out."
Still, they're hoping to have the final piece of "Sweet Little Miss" in their hands by October. Volunteers, many of whom are former military aviators and mechanics, will then get to work on reassembling the supersonic fighter plane. The F-14 Tomcat replaced the Navy's F-4 Phantom II in the mid 1970s and was used into the early 2000s as an interceptor, a spy plane and for air and ground attacks.
Lewis said the Iranian Air Force still uses Tomcats and "Sweet Little Miss" was demilitarized — all sensitive components removed — upon its arrival at the Richmond museum. The engine also was taken for use in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"She did the last carrier-landing of an F-14," Lewis said. "And she was on the (USS Abraham Lincoln) when President Bush gave his 'Mission Accomplished' speech. If you look at photos from that speech, you can see 'Sweet Little Miss' in the background."
The F-14 Tomcat was officially retired by the Navy on Sept. 22, 2006 and has been supplanted by the F-18 Super Hornet.