HOLDEN — Gavin Vicaire loves airplanes and over the last month has watched in wonder as a Cold War-era MiG 21 fighter jet has been gradually pieced together in a parking lot at the Maine Military Supply store.
“We’ve been by a couple of times and every time he’s right up at the window,” said Gavin’s father, Keane Vicaire, explaining why the family from Machias stopped at the store on Thursday.
Gavin, 6, who held a toy MiG 29 in his hand, and his big sister, Nora, 8, each took photos and looked inside the engine compartment and underneath the wings of the 1971 aircraft, while their dad pointed out its different aspects.
“We Googled it after the first time we saw it,” he said, explaining why he knew so much about the jet made in the former Soviet Union.
Frank Spizuoco, the owner of Maine Military Supply, said his plan is to preserve the fighter, which takes its name from Mikoyan-Gurevich Design bureau, now called the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG.
“It’s a way of preserving history,” Spizuoco said, while helping his son, Zachary, put on a historic MiG 21 helmet that was worn by pilots. “It was heading to scrap. It would have been destroyed.”
Spizuoco said he was on the other side of the country when he found the aircraft, which he had packed into a shipping container and shipped by train to Maine.
“I went to California picking warehouses and a guy had it,” the military surplus store owner said.
The MiG 21 Fishbed was built in 1971 and was first used in Poland, according to Mike Watson, owner of Bullmoose Systems of Dexter, who is a “Cold War history buff” helping to reconstruct the aircraft. The Cold War was the period of political and military tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and their respective allies for most of the second half of the 20th century.
“The Polish military used it for tactical reconnaissance … doing border patrols, maneuvers and stuff like that,” Watson said.
“A lot of people may think it’s [strictly] a fighter jet, but it’s a MiG 21-R,” he added later. “The ‘R’ stands for reconnaissance.”
The MiG’s history has been put on a sign that will be on display with the plane, once the final pieces are in place and its original paint job is restored.
“It would have been installed with two missiles, for self defense, and a reconnaissance pod underneath,” Watson said, pointing out things that are missing. “We’ll have to create something for a mock up. They won’t let us have the real stuff.”
The jet also has no engine, “so we’ll also have to mock up something for the back of the plane,” he said.
Watson, who owns a 1971 retired military supply truck, said the MiG 21 was the first supersonic jet made that also was capable of maneuvers, which is why there are so many different versions, some that are still in use today.
“It’s a big piece of Cold War history,” Watson said. “When that airplane showed up, it was kinda a big deal.”
“It’s cool,” Nora Vicaire said after taking her photos.