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Fairey Gannet finds home at local airport

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news New Richmond, 54017
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The British accents were easy to pick out despite the noise of the moment.

Harry Odone and Jim Freeman from Great Britain scurried about at the New Richmond Regional Airport making preparations for the big moment.

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A film crew with two cameras flitted about capturing the action.

On Thursday, Oct. 7, the local airport became the new home of a Fairey Gannet XT752, the only such remaining aircraft in the world.

Built in the United Kingdom in 1954, the dual-control trainer aircraft is one of eight that were manufactured by the British Navy. The XT752's original job was to hunt Russian submarines during the Cold War.

After the Fairey Gannet was taken out of military service, the plane ended up in the United States. Its current owner is Shannan Hendricks, a Twin Cities resident.

"I have been a supporter of historic cars and aircraft for years, especially the unique types that catch our eye and imagination," Hendricks said. "I like to think I am just playing a part in her fantastic history as her loyal caretaker, making sure other enthusiasts and supporters can also get the benefit of seeing this remarkable aircraft in our care."

According to Odone, the airplane's previous owner, the Fairey Gannet will be restored to flying condition over the next 12 to 18 months.

The original paint will be stripped off and the airplane will get a new coat of "totally authentic" paint, Odone said.

The restoration will also include a complete overhaul and engine parts replacement.

"When it's done, it will be like new," Odone said. "We don't want to accelerate the process. We want to do it right the first time."

The job is made challenging because spare parts for the unique airplane are hard to come by.

Odone, who will manage the restoration effort, and Freeman, a former Royal Air Force aircraft technician who will oversee the technical aspects of the project, plan to be in New Richmond often to get the airplane ready.

"There will never be another one again," Odone said. "This is it."

Once the work is finished, Hendricks said she plans to open an air museum and teaching center locally. The airplane will also attend airshows and may be part of an annual airshow in New Richmond.

Hendricks chose the New Richmond airport over other potential homes, because of the kindness of the local people, Odone said.

"New Richmond had the right feel," he said. "It's the perfect spot."

"I chose New Richmond because it has a warmth of a close community that seems to want to drive the town forward with positive attitude," Hendricks added. "The people who I have met are very friendly and the manager at the airport Mike Demulling has a great-get-things-done attitude which is so valuable to any project."

The airplane's journey here took a few interesting turns in recent years.

In 2004, the Fairey Gannet took off from the U.S. in an attempt to return to the United Kingdom for the first time in 30 years.

The pilot experienced engine trouble and only made it as far as Goose Bay in Newfoundland, Canada. In August of this year, the airplane was rescued from its storage hangar in Canada and brought to the Minneapolis airport.

Ironically, the world's largest cargo plane, a Russian AN-124, was the aircraft that made the transfer possible. The huge Fairey Gannet was loaded inside the cargo hold of the Russian aircraft.

"It's a fantastic story," Odone said, "being rescued by a Russian airplane."

The trip from Minneapolis to New Richmond was an interesting journey as well. The Fairey Gannet was originally scheduled to arrive here on Oct. 6, but movers couldn't get the aircraft through the gate they were allowed to exit. They had to wait another day to get a permit to exit a bigger gate.

At around 10 a.m. Thursday, a line of State Patrol and New Richmond police escorts, as well as the trailered airplane and a huge crane, filed into the New Richmond airport property.

Around 50 airplane enthusiasts and local leaders were on hand to welcome the airplane to its new home.

After the airplane was unloaded, and Fairey Gannet fans got a close-up look, the aircraft was moved to a nearby hangar where the restoration will occur.

"We welcome the local people to come out and take a look, and to be a part of the project if they wish," Odone said. "She's meant to be shared."

The airplane's journey from Canada to New Richmond caught the attention of officials with Discovery Channel's "Mega Moves" television series.

A film crew of two photographers was on hand as the Fairey Gannet made the trip from the Twin Cities to the New Richmond airport.

"Mega Moves" films teams of movers as they attempt to move larger-than-life objects across treacherous terrain.

The Fairey Gannet episode will be completed in the coming months, and a tentative air date is slated for February 2011. The episode will first air in Great Britain and then will be shown in other countries.

The airplane's owner is launching a website so that people can follow the progress of the restoration project, and so that sponsors can be found to help finance the effort. Once completed, the website will be found at www.faireygannetxt752.com.

"This will hopefully attract supporters, members and more importantly sponsors and donors to help us with the important cause of refurbishing her and bringing her back to flying status as quickly as possible," Hendricks said.

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