John Briley, executive director of the Brunswick Naval Aviation Museum, at left, and Nick Nichols, a member of the museum and Navy veteran, have overseen the repainting and refurbishing of one of two patrol aircraft on display at Brunswick Landing. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — Ten minutes after a U.S. Navy patrol airplane left Brunswick Naval Air Station on Sept. 22, 1978, a mishap caused the vessel to disintegrate, killing its eight-man crew and dispersing debris in Poland, about 40 miles from the base.

The circumstances behind the tragedy of that Patrol Squadron Eight (VP-8)-flown plane remained couched in speculation, but it is believed the aircraft’s No. 1 engine likely broke off, taking out all the vessel’s hydraulics and fuel lines, said Nick Nichols, a VP-8 alumni who joined in 1980.

Forty-two years after that incident, the crew of the LC-85 is being honored by restyling a similar vessel permanently parked at the former airbase – now Brunswick Landing – to look exactly like the lost vessel. A plaque that commemorates the tragedy and lists the eight crewmen will stand in front of the airplane’s nose. A dedication ceremony is slated for 4 p.m. Aug. 14, after the Great State of Maine Airshow holds its practice day.

The insignia of Patrol Squadron Eight, an eight-person crew that died in aviation mishap after leaving Brunswick Naval Air Station in 1978. Courtesy Jeff Smat

Nichols, a member of both the Brunswick Naval Aviation Museum and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority board that oversees Brunswick Landing, led the fundraising effort to repaint and refurbish the aircraft – a 1970s-built P-3C, a newer model than the P-3B that crashed. The P-3C needed a lot of work after years of exposure to the elements, Nichols said.

The “P” stands for “patrol.”

“We’re basically putting all the designations on a P-3C, but commemorating an aircraft that was a P-3B,” Nichols said. “… We’re going to match the livery … as accurately as we can,” referring to the vessel’s insignias and paint scheme.

That aircraft was known as LC-85. The Navy’s patrol planes had the alphabetical designation “L,” and “you would go from LA, to LB, to LC,” depending on the squadron, Nichols explained. “… Part of that was to be able to talk on the radio. If I said ‘Lima Charlie,’ you knew that I was VP-8. If I said ‘Lima Bravo,’ you knew that I was VP-2.”

Of the roughly $35,000 cost for the refurbishing project, the museum only had to raise about $20,000, much of which was contributed from VP-8 veterans involved with the project, Nichols said. The balance came via discounts and in-kind work from several companies. Moore Painting “stripped, sand-blasted, hand-sanded, and even re-riveted portions of the aircraft before applying the multiple coats of primer and paint,” a museum news release stated.

“The beauty of it was, they got into it to the extent where they enjoyed doing it,” Nichols said. “… They got emotionally involved.”

“It was for the families,” said Dan Miller, Moore Painting’s vice president. “I found out that the P-3 community is a big family.”

Sherwin-Williams donated most of the paint. Sunbelt Rentals contributed no-charge use of a man-lift for painting and decal work. Most painting is complete, and touch-up paint and decals – including insignia from all seven P-3 squadrons ever based at the station – will be added in warmer and drier conditions. Carrot Signs is installing the decals.

Brunswick Landing has two static display aircraft: the P-3, located next to Memorial Park, and an earlier-built P-2. The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority accepted both planes as static display aircraft on loan from the Navy after the airbase closed in 2011.

The museum has looked into moving the P-2 closer to the P-3 and repainting it as well.

P-3s were the most prevalent vessels at the base during flight operations there from 1944 to 2009, said John Briley, the museum’s executive director.

“The P-2s started out for a couple years in the beginning, but then it was all P-3 up until the time (the base) closed,” he said. “It’s really the signature aircraft for the Naval Air Station, so it’s an integral part of the story we have to tell.”

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