As a child, Tim Lynch admired the grandeur of the “Delta Dagger” interceptor jets, and was awed at the speed with which they blasted from the hangars at the Air National Guard base in Westhampton.
“They would be up in the air so fast it wasn’t funny,” he recalled.
Mr. Lynch, a Quiogue native, was a child at Westhampton Beach Elementary School between 1972 and 1975, when the 106th Fighter Interceptor Group, as the current 106th Rescue Wing was then named, operated the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger aircraft. The base was then under a Cold War-era alert mission, prepared to intercept Soviet aircraft should they come too close.
“They were so loud that the schoolteacher would stop teaching when they went overhead,” he said of the jets.
Those memories were in no small part the source of dismay for Mr. Lynch when he spotted a Delta Dagger aircraft—one that recently sat on display outside the 106th Rescue Wing—on a government liquidation site, with an opening bid of $25 and strict requirements for its destruction to prevent reuse.
“I think it’s a sin to cut it up and throw it away,” he said, pointing out the light blue seagull, which has now come to represent Westhampton Beach, painted on the jet’s wing. “It’s part of Westhampton’s history.”
But First Lieutenant Kory Larson, executive officer of the 106th Rescue Wing, provided an explanation for what, at first glance, appears to be the regrettable discarding of a jet long past its heyday. Superstorm Sandy’s winds blew the jet over last fall, significantly damaging its landing gear, and the rescue wing, faced with steep federal budget cuts, doesn’t possess the money to refurbish it so that it might remain at its post. “It is a significant safety hazard the way it is right now, which is why we decided to go with this course,” Lt. Larson said. “It was not without a lot of thought and a lot of effort to save the aircraft that we decided to go the route of selling it.”
He explained that the base solicited donations that the airmen hoped would allow them to repair the jet, but all fell through. Though it has remained on display at the base, the Air Force owns the jet, and oversees the auction, which is set to open at midnight on Tuesday, September 17, and close two days later, on September 19, at 5 p.m.
The Delta Dagger aircraft predate even the most senior members of the 106th Rescue Wing, though their history is not lost on them. The base operated at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn until 1971, when it was relocated to its present spot at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport. For the next three years, as the 106th Fighter Interceptor Group, the airmen sat on standby, armed with pilots, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
“Basically you go up and it’s a show of force—you escort them out of American airspace,” Lt. Larson explained. “It’s something we still do today.”
In 1975, the base’s mission changed to the 106th Rescue Wing, as it still operates today. The airmen deploy worldwide to carry out combat search and rescue coverage, as well as personnel recovery, and civil search and rescue. The wing also responds to national disasters at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The Delta Dagger aircraft were designed in the 1950s, and were operated by a single pilot. They were the first supersonic fighters—meaning they traveled faster than the speed of sound—operated by the Air Force, and could reach speeds of 810 miles per hour, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. They also carried 24 2.75-inch rockets and six guided missiles, fitting with their mission of destroying enemy aircraft. The jet that is up for auction has had its engine removed, and weighs about 14,000 pounds. It once stood guard of the base near its entrance, but around 2008, it was moved to a pad inside the base and a fully-restored Vietnam-era HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter took its place, as a more accurate representation of the base’s current mission.
A private association of former 106th Rescue Wing airmen has purchased smaller display models of aircraft that are currently operated at the base, which they plan to display, at a much lower maintenance cost, inside the base, Lt. Larson said.
“We put them on display for a reason and it’s really just to pay homage to our heritage,” he said. “Although none of the present members of the unit performed or supported that mission, it is a part of the unit’s history and as we always advance, the 106th Wing is a parent unit to the oldest squadron in the Air National Guard.”
“We’re very proud of that and obviously are very big on history,” he continued.
Mr. Lynch brought the matter to the attention of Linda Kabot, who is a candidate for Southampton Town supervisor, and she said she has identified three possible locations where the jet could be put on display, though all would require the cooperation and support of the property owners and the local governments. The cost, she said, could be an obstacle, and has already deterred Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller from considering sheltering the aircraft in his municipality. She said she planned to contact Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi to see if he would be interested in the effort.
Mr. Lynch lamented the loss of the jet. He said he taught his children, Courtney, 11, and Kieran, 10, about the jets, though it’s not the same as seeing one, as he did when he was young.
“I just think it’s shameful because there are kids who won’t know the history of that base,” he said, adding that he was hard pressed to believe the base explored all its options for preserving the jet. “I think that’s just government speak for we don’t want to be bothered.”