Meridian, Miss. Thousands of people pass the Navy T-2 Alpha on display on Highway 39 every day. The plane, which trained numerous Navy aviators is on loan from the Naval Aviation Museum, and serves as a gateway to Naval Air Station Meridian for students from all around the world that come here to train. After an extensive restoration, the plane is back to looking brand new. Navy veteran and current Meridian acting chief administrative officer, Curt Goldacker, says the plane represents the relationship between the city and the base.
"It leaves a lasting impression, and there are many, many people who come back as instructors who eventually retire, like myself," Goldacker said.
The painter, John Penney, says the process was long and tedious. The 22-year Navy veteran whose name is on the side of the plane, had to power wash the aircraft, then paint the fuselage, and finally finish up with the detail work, a process that took 2 and a half months. But in the end, he says it's not about the plane, but the people.
"I'm grateful to everybody that came came by, and honked, and waved, and stopped and asked me about it," said Penney. "It just gave me hope that people are still interested in Meridian."
Goldacker, who flew a similar plane during his time in the Navy, hopes that the people who pass the restored plane will think about how important NAS is to our area.
"When you have a pilot coming here for training, he's here for a year," said Goldacker. "They come from around the country. They're the best and brightest the nation provides to defend our country, and they get their jet training here in Meridian, Mississippi."