WAUSAU, Wis. — It’s not every day that a 1966 John Deere 4020 tractor tows a 1969 A-7 Corsair II aircraft through city streets.
But that was the task for nine members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing Crashed, Damaged, Disabled Aircraft Recovery (CDDAR) team June 13, who directed the safe movement of the A-7 through the streets of Wausau to its new resting place at Alexander Airport Park, near the city’s downtown airport.
“Planning this movement took approximately two years from initial concept to movement completion,” said Master Sgt. Michael J. Schmidt, the 115th FW, senior non-commissioned officer in charge of repair and reclamation. “This [aircraft] movement provided a chance to deal with something that we wouldn’t normally be able to do, with a simulated flat wheel as we fixed all the tires and a simulated obstructed tow that was three miles long through an obstructed area.
“It also included lift training for two new team chiefs and cribbing practice — including taking measurements, cutting and set-up of cribbing,” Schmidt continued. “Not every movement we are requested to do includes this type of extensive training, and that’s what made this unique.”
The move required coordination between the 115th CDDAR team, the Wausau Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 388, and Wausau city workers and police. The police designated no-parking areas along the route, and then helped secure roadways and direct traffic during the move. Meanwhile, Wausau city workers ensured powerlines and light poles were moved or secured before the movement occurred, and followed to be sure the plane safely made it around trees and wires along an urban route not designed for aircraft transport.
“Each scenario is so different than the last — we often have the opportunity to think outside the box, and it’s difficult to train for that,” said Master Sgt. Alex L. White, a 115th Fighter Wing crew chief and part of the CDDAR team for approximately three years. “This is good training for us all, as it presents a scenario that isn’t covered in regular training events or smaller movements.”
Much of the funding for the actual park project at Alexander Airport Park was raised privately through the Southeast Side Neighborhood group of Wausau, said John Chmiel, a member of the Southeast Side group and Wausau’s Downtown Airport manager. Chmiel was directly involved in coordinating the move and building the park in conjunction with Becher Hoppe engineers.
The two-hour aircraft movement began at 8 p.m., with the CDDAR team marching down city streets as police directed traffic and ensured safe movement of the aircraft and all those involved in the makeshift parade.
Wausau area residents watched with surprise, and many stopped cars or came out of their houses to take pictures and record video of the spectacle. Several of the residents followed along for the rest of the route to the A-7’s temporary resting place in the Wausau Downtown Airport parking lot.
“The most interesting thing, beside a big plane rolling down the street, is that it was towed by a John Deere tractor — only in Wisconsin,” said one unnamed resident. The tractor owner and driver for the movement was Senior Airman Alan D. Hughes, a traditional 115th FW crew chief.
“I was able to help coordinate this movement as I work for the Wausau Airport,” Hughes said. “They came to me and requested that I help move it [on my own], but I declined and directed them to the professionals.” As a 115th Fighter Wing Airman, Hughes then volunteered his tractor for use as he lives near to the area and works closely with Chmiel at the airport.
“Being able to be a part of the move and learn more about how the CDDAR team works, was an adventure, and I would love to be part of the team in the future,” Hughes said. “It was interesting to be able to be a part of this movement as the number of working parts that had to be coordinated was incredible.”
The CDDAR team spends approximately 50 hours training each year, and training varies from classroom work, to unorthodox aircraft lifting, to towing and moving vehicles.