It has been more than 50 years since the United States Navy veteran has flown the plane and nearly 10 years since he has been reunited with it. However, "mission is accomplished" for Dr. Richard Maioriello, of Magnolia, and the many people in the area who have helped.
The F-9 Panther plane he flew while in the US Navy has been restored and last Saturday morning, if you saw a large jet being towed up state Route 44 and Interstate 77, your eyes were not deceiving you. The plane was on the way to the MAPS museum at the Akron-Canton Airport, where it can be seen by many others who are interested in flight and in the missions of our Armed Forces.
More than seven years ago Maioriello was able to obtain the exact F-9 Panther plane he had flown in 1956-58, during the Beirut Crisis, when he served with the VFP62 Squadron. Only 200 of the planes were built in the 1950s by the Grumman Company. They were built specifically for reconnaissance photography and were used during the "Cold War." The Grumman planes were all named after types of cats, Panther, Bearcat, and others. This was the Cougar.
Maioriello, who served his country as a pilot and flew 2,500 hours, knew this was one of the planes he had flown when he saw it at the Wings of Eagles Museum, in Horseheads, NY. Since the operator of the museum had other planes of that era, he agreed to sell this one to Maioriello. The Panther would need a lot of work to restore it, and it took two years of red tape just to get the plane to Ohio, but Maioriello was determined.
Upon getting the plane to Ohio, Maioriello and others started the restoration work. A consultant from New Mexico helped get the work started and led everyone in the right direction. Help also came from Rob Bowling, Bill Cordia and others at Waynesburg Carriage Company.
Much of the plane was in pieces and some parts were even missing when it came to Ohio, but the painstaking work began. The plane was first stored at the sewer plant in Waynesburg, where some renovation was done. It was later moved to Waynesburg Carriage Company where the work was finished, except for installing the wings, which had to be done after it was hauled to MAPS. The wings may also be configured to fold and unfold, as the planes did when landing on carriers at sea.
The work has included putting on a new tail hook and fuel probe, repairing the canopy and more. Stenciling and painting the correct lettering and art on the outside of the jet was also done.
Cordia, who is a history buff and who has restored automobiles, trucks and tractors, can now say he had a large part in restoring a jet airplane. He has been so excited about his work with the Navy jet that he had a tattoo of it put on his arm. Cordia went on line and researched the plane. He also drew the letters and stencils at home while sitting at his kitchen table. He spent many hours just on the cosmetics of the plane.
Cordia also sanded, primed and painted the plane and reconstructed much of the 40 panels, the fuel rod and more. Anyone who gets to view the plane at the MAPS museum will see why Cordia is extremely proud that he was a part of this project.
Maioriello, who is a retired physician, is proud to have served his country and he is proud of the unit with which he served.
It was 50 years ago in October, that the VFP62 Squadron photographed the evidence President John F. Kennedy needed to show that Soviet nuclear missiles were secretly being placed in Cuba. According to a website vfp62.com the high-resolution photography directly contributed to national security and possibly even stopped a nuclear war.
Kennedy, who was also a Navy veteran, said at a 1963 press conference after this mission was accomplished, "Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile ... can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, 'I served in the United States Navy.'"
The squadron was also the first to photograph the eye of a hurricane. Flights, such as one pictured in 1959 over Hurricane Gracie, helped the weather bureau with its hurricane research.
Maioriello had originally thought the plane may find a home in his hometown of Magnolia, but for now it has found a home among other planes in the MAPS museum, where many can see it. The plane may also be included in an upcoming Pro-Football Hall of Fame Parade.
Maioriello and his wife, Sue, are also active citizens in the area where they are raising two daughters, Jenny and Suzy. They have been past recipients of the Magnolia Area Historical Society's for the preservation work done on their 1902 home in the village.