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Restoration continues for ‘Jet’ mascot at James Clemens

MADISON – Students and volunteers continue to restore a retired aircraft to stand proud eventually as “Jet,” the official mascot of James Clemens High School.

After work is completed, “Jet” will be mounted on a pedestal in the roundabout on James Clemens’ campus. “We’re trying to get the public and students interested in finishing this fascinating project,” retired Maj. Rez Linen said. Linen is serving as project coordinator for jet restoration and works as James Clemens Junior ROTC Director.

Madison Board of Education approved an agreement to receive the Grumman TF-9J Cougar aircraft from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. School officials and James Clemens JROTC negotiated the aircraft’s transfer to the Madison campus.

The jet is on permanent loan from the Navy. Currently, the plane is in storage at a Madison facility.

The two-seat Cougar trainer jet flew combat missions during the Vietnam War from aircraft carriers. The aircraft served as the Navy’s advanced flight trainer for 20-plus years. Only about eight Cougars remain in existence.

The Cougar once flew as part of the Navy’s elite demonstration flying team, The Blue Angels.

Designers used the earlier F9F Panther as a model for the Cougar. They replaced the Panther’s straight wing with a more modern swept wing. The Cougar first flew on April 4, 1956, and remained in service longer than any other variants.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. Marines used at least four Cougars as forward air control aircraft, particularly with U.S. Marines Headquarters and Maintenance Squadrons at Da Nang and Chu Lai. The military phased out the last Cougar in February 1974.

James Clemens workers are restoring the Cougar in phases. “The aircraft will be restored in a presentable manner using proper maintenance standards,” Linen said. “A courtyard with brick pavers will surround and support the aircraft as it sits upon a steel mount. Floodlights are planned to illuminate this landmark fixture for the community.”

PPG Aerospace is donating paint and primer systems.

“Volunteers include folks with aviation backgrounds, as well as no aviation experience,” Linen said. “Each volunteer brings a special skill to the effort. Some members have fundraising experience; some have teaching experience.”

“The thread that binds the volunteers together is the desire to give something back to the community. They (are) involved in a piece of local history that will become a landmark for the school and surrounding community for decades to come,” Linen said.

Linen encourages anyone to volunteer with or donate for the restoration. “Your money will help pay for sheet metal repair, needed hardware, aircraft transportation, tools, supplies, storage and other expenses,” he said.

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