LARGO — You see the commercials virtually every Christmas season: Someone gets a car in a colossal holiday stocking or an SUV with a humongous bow on top.
The Armed Forces Military Museum got an even larger-than-life gift this Christmas: a Russian MiG-21.
An anonymous private donor from Largo bought the fighter jet and gave it to the museum on "permanent loan," said John Piazza Sr., the facility's founder and president.
Because the jet is on loan from a private donor, the museum isn't privy to how much it cost, said Nadine Piazza, John's daughter and the director of operations for the facility.
The MiG-21, now housed in the restoration area of the Largo museum, will be on display in early 2011, possibly in March.
John Piazza said the fighter jet is part of a larger plan.
"Once it's set up in there, we're going to make the whole bay slanted toward the Cold War with … the missiles and the Soviet (display) cases," he said. "We're going to have a platform so people can actually sit in the cockpit and have a photo taken. We have a Russian MiG-21 flight helmet, and we've bought a MiG-21 pilot's flight suit that will be on display."
The supersonic fighter jet was developed by the Mikoyan-I-Gurevich design bureau, a Russian military aircraft designer. It was formerly a Soviet design bureau founded by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich, hence the name "MiG."
Development of the MiG-21 started in the 1950s. Production ran from 1959 through 1985.
The Armed Forces Military Museum will be the only place in the Tampa Bay area to see such a jet. And this one isn't a rusted relic.
It's still flyable and has an ejection seat that's armed and ready. The MiG's last home was Houston, where a private owner flew it in air shows. Before that, the jet was owned by the Polish government.
Daniella and Kelly D'lowly and their husbands brought their children, cousins Christian, 7, and Zack, 10, to the museum recently. The children took a look at the MiG in the restoration and warehouse area, which soon will become part of the museum tour.
When display coordinator Kevin Shorter mentioned that visitors may be able to climb up for a peek into the cockpit, the boys' eyes lit up.
"I've always been interested in war, and I think it is a very cool Russian plane. (I like) seeing all what's happened in history," Zack said.
Last month, Shorter and two other museum staff members helped pick up the MiG in Houston, where they took off the wings and loaded it onto a truck's flatbed.
"The wings were on either side of it and kind of sandwiched it," Shorter said. "Once it was loaded, we left Texas and came straight back here and unloaded it."
Nadine Piazza said it was a long trip home for the driver.
"The trucker said that he had people actually following him into rest stops to talk to him about the MiG," she said. "He said every time he pulled off to get gas or eat, people were right behind him."
Zack's and Christian's dads were in the museum together and missed the preview. When Zack realized he had a story to tell his dad, a smile lit up his face. Zack's mother, Kelly, said dad will get another chance soon. Zack is already planning a return trip when another relative comes to town.