Panther gets a new coat

The white primer paint had gotten on his hands, feet and legs — even his face — but Pete Carolan maintained a steady pace and concentration as he applied it to the jet fighter.

Fortunately for the retired Navy SEAL, the mixture could be washed off with water.

Carolan was part of a team Wednesday working toward restoring the Grumman F9F Panther in the Lions Park playground. The former Korean War-era plane has been a fixture in the downtown Costa Mesa park since 1960.

Costa Mesa police Sgt. Vic Bakkila, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, and longtime resident Al Bernstein are helping to lead the restoration effort.

Bernstein, 78, jokingly referred to himself as the "technical advisor" on the project because he worked on the fighters as a young man while serving four years in the Navy.

"It looked so bad that we'll repaint and do it right," Bernstein said.

He said the plane was originally flown by the Marines but that the new paint job will transform it into a Navy plane.

"It should be fun for awhile until the kids tear it to shreds again," Bernstein said with a laugh.

Organizers said the job should be completed by Sunday, when a small appreciation barbecue for the volunteers and veterans is planned for 11:30 a.m.

According to Costa Mesa Globe-Herald archives — a predecessor to the Daily Pilot — the Costa Mesa Exchange Club brought the plane to Lions Park. The club's president, Duane Lewis — as well as Ted Tanner, Charles Woodard and Wayne Owens — were the principals involved in the effort.

A coating of cement was applied to the plane and it was made safe for kids to play on.

Tanner is expected to attend Sunday's event.

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