It’s not every day a teenage boy gets to work on an A-4 Skyhawk fighter jet.
Saturday at the Albany Municipal Airport, four students from the Albany Options School got to do just that, with the guidance of a man who actually flew one.
“It was a workhorse,” said Jay Sluiter, a retired Albany resident who served in the Vietnam War for four years, ending in December 1970. “It was an easy airplane to fly, fully capable operating at sea of off land. They’re neat old birds.”
The students were gutting the “birds” Saturday.
“We are trying to get them as light as possible,” explained Brandon Goldner, coordinator for Historic Albany Recovery Program (HARP), which organized the collaboration.
The three planes will eventually be placed on poles for permanent display at different heights, visible from Interstate 5.
The concept is to have the planes at various stages of flight.
One, set about 15 feet up, will be just taking off with the wheels down. A second, about 20 feet up, will have the wheels up and look as if it is beginning to climb. The third, approximately 40 feet in the air, is to be in the mid-bank turn position.
The planes will be painted appropriately for each of the branches of the U.S. military that used them: one Navy, one Marines and one in the style of the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Flight Demonstration Squadron.
“People will say, ‘Oh, Albany? That’s where the jets are,’” said Jack Kasper, who owns the hangar the students were using. “It’s much better to have these ol’ girls on display then to be turned into molten metal.”
Kasper even bought a new set of tools just for the kids to use.
“They were on sale at Sears,” he said. “And this way I don’t have to get on them for not putting my tools back.”
Cody Rotsolk, 17, was ready for the challenge.
“I thought, ‘I could be a part of something great,’” he said of the project.
So he gathered three friends from Albany Options School, Flavio Lopez, 18, Marcos Solis-Garcia, 16, and Alex Amador, also 16.
Cody’s grandfather Michael Rotsolk also joined him for the day.
“It’s because of him I started liking planes,” Cody said. “It’s where he and I connect.”
Mike Ingram, principal of Albany Options School, said he jumped at the chance to get his students out of the brick and mortar school setting.
“They are motivated and working hard,” he said. “It fits exactly with what we are trying to do: Get kids as many learning opportunities as possible.”
In the 1960s, an F-86 Sabre Jet and Beaumark missile were on display at the Albany airport.
They were taken down due to damage. “People crawling up and birds getting inside,” Kasper explained. “Nobody was specifically responsible for taking care of them.”
Goldner and Kasper are making plans so that these planes may avoid a similar fate.
Kasper has volunteered to be the point person among a group of “interested parties” in the planes’ caretaking.
They hope to set up a rotation with local schools for students to help.
“If our schools would forever have a stake in the upkeep — that would be my goal,” Goldner added.
The three planes still belong to the U.S. government, Kasper said.
“The city is the caretaker,” he said. “The state comes down every now and then to make sure we haven’t sold them to the bad guys.”
Kasper got the planes from the salvage yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. — a “boneyard” for military aircraft.
He said he offered to take one, but they said, “take all three or nothing,” so the trio of jets were brought to Oregon.
Kasper, his son Heath and Dan Miltenberger brought the planes over on trailers at their own expense.
Sluiter, the former pilot, took a moment to marvel at the planes.
“The advances are unbelievable,” he said. “These airplanes are true testaments of technology.
“I don’t think young men should have to go off to war when they don’t want to — but something like this gives them appreciation of what came before them,” he said of the students. “They wanted to get their hands on the tools and see if they could do it.”