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Thunderbirds to honor fallen pilot with dedication of restored F-105 replica

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Updated: 11/17/2013 1:35 pm
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE -- A historic one-12th scale model F-105 "Thunderchief" display will be officially unveiled, in its professionally restored glory, at a ceremony Friday.

The 600-pound model will be on permanent display in front of the Thunderbirds hangar, perched atop the same tall, red, white and blue post that held it for 25 years in front of main access gate of the base.

As before, it will be accompanied by the memorial inscription that pays tribute to Capt. Gene Devlin, a Thunderbirds pilot who died in an F-105 accident in May 1964.

The display was initially installed in 1974, and it remained at Nellis' front gate until 1999. It was taken down to accommodate construction of realigned access roads and later replaced by a four-jet F-16 formation display, which is currently mounted near the base visitors' center. The F-105 model was stored in a remote location on base property for more than a decade, before a call for retrieval came from the Red Horse civil engineer squadron more than a year ago.

Tech. Sgt. Anthony Graham, a former Thunderbirds maintenance professional, took that call and was the first team member to get a glimpse of the separated and weathered pieces of the F-105 memorial display.

Several phone calls later, Graham had an agreement from Rick Dale - star of History Channel's "American Restoration" -- to give the model jet a much-needed makeover.

The Thunderbirds Alumni Association fronted the $10,000 cost of the restoration, and the entire project was featured in an episode of the national television program in November 2012.

The dedication ceremony was put on hold for a year to accommodate the 2013 TBAA reunion, which will celebrate the Thunderbirds 60th anniversary. Hundreds of former Thunderbirds team members will attend the event.

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