James Clemens jet placed on pedestal in front of school, unveiling set for Thursday at 7 p.m.
MADISON – The powder blue TF-9J Cougar is now in place to welcome students outside the front entrance of James Clemens High School. The jet, which commemorates the school’s mascot, was installed on its pedestal last week in a majestic takeoff position.
The specific aircraft chosen for the installation is a TF-9J Cougar, a retired Navy fighter jet that was previously housed at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville. In 2014, the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum transferred care of the aircraft on loan to the Madison Board of Education, at which point, a local volunteer, Randy Beavers, began leading restoration efforts on it.
Restoration was a nine-year process that included countless hours of Beavers’ and James Clemens’ students’ time and the help and support of local companies, the Highland Group, Nola VanPeursem Architects, Northrop Grumman, and PPG Aerospace. Members of the Highland Group crafted the base for the aircraft and performed the lifting of the jet and welded it into place at last week’s installation.
“It was awesome seeing it lifting up,” Beavers said. “The Highland Group, the construction company that built the pedestal and handled the hosting, I can’t say [anything] good enough about those guys. They have just been aces on helping out with everything, wonderful group to work with.”
Beavers had high praise for everyone involved and the teamwork that made the project possible from the supporting companies to the James Clemens staff to the board of education.
“This wasn’t done in a vacuum,” he said. “Everybody has been behind it.”
The jet is a Vietnam War-era aircraft that saw combat, was used by the Blue Angels and as a flight trainer, and has over four thousand flying hours.
According to a press release from the Highland Group, “This initiative forms part of an ongoing series of enhancements at James Clemens High School, which includes significant upgrades to the athletic facilities, football fields, track area, and baseball and softball complexes. Another major project underway is the construction of a cutting-edge indoor practice facility. Spanning an impressive 10,000 square feet, this facility aims to provide a year-round, climate-controlled training environment for our student-athletes, complete with indoor batting cages and locker rooms.”
The official unveiling of the jet is set to take place as part of James Clemens’ homecoming festivities on September 14. The ceremony will be held at 7 p.m.