2004 World War II Weekend
Reading Regional Airport,
June 4-6, 2004
Airshow report written on
June 7, 2004.
Every year in June, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum transforms one end of the Reading Regional Airport into somewhat of a time machine, taking you back into 1943-1944, both on the home front and on the war front. Thus World War II Weekend is born, as re-enactors come in droves with the fashion of the time, the vehicles of the time, the weapons of the time, the music of that time period, and we can't forget the airplanes, since the airplanes represent a huge part of the show.
World War II Weekend is actually one of the few shows that I will attend this year where I arrived AFTER the gates opened. The gates actually opened at 8 am, and getting to Reading requires a drive that's approximately two hours. It's not a bad drive but its a drive that should really take a little over an hour and a half, if it weren't for the tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the amount of local driving I have to do between the various highways. I did not want to get up at 5 and leave at 6, so I got up at 6:30 and left at 7:15 and arrived on show site at around 9:15. I had chosen to attend the Sunday show, not because of the historical aspect (it was 60 years ago that D-Day occured), but because one airplane that was attending was going to fly that day only.
There were no modern aircraft on display this year, but that was expected considering the size of the aircraft that were in attendance and parked where the modern aircraft would be parked. The Commemorative Air Force brought in several aircraft, representing the various wings that comprise the CAF. The representative aircraft included a C-60 Lodestar, B-24 Liberator Diamond Lil and the B-29 Superfortress Fifi. The Yankee Air Force were represented with a C-47 Skytrain, the B-17G Flying Fortress Yankee Lady, and the B-25 Mitchell Yankee Warrior. The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation had their C-54E Skymaster, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum had their P2V-7 Neptune, HH-52, and Fairchild 24G on display, along with their new TBM Avenger and the B-25 Mitchell Briefing Time, who joined the ramp with a third B-25 Mitchell - Panchito. Fighters included the Planes of Fame P-38 Lightning, the AMPHA's FG-1D Corsair Skyboss, P-51D Mustangs Glamorous Gal and Bald Eagle (who was parked on the actual hot ramp with the Cessnas and Pipers), a Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, a Val replica, another TBM Avenger, and an FM-2 Wildcat. No less than eight AT-6/SNJs were on display, with the MAAM's SNJ giving rides on Saturday (it was grounded Sunday due to mechanical problems). Trainers were in abundance, and included PT-17s and their various designations, a pair of BT-13 Valiants, PT-19, PT-23, and two PT-26s. L-birds were also in attendance with about seven various L-birds. A Percival Provost, a Maule, and a pair of Stinson Reliants rounded out the warbird lineup. The CAF's Red Tail P-51C Mustang was supposed to attend, but it was destroyed in an emergency landing the week before World War II Weekend.
Rides were being given before and after the flying display in a Cessna 172, the B-17, and an open cockpit Waco and Stearman. Prices ranged from $35 for a ride in the Cessna up to over $400 a pop for a ride in the B-17. Activity by general aviation over the course of the day came from business jets like a Citation and a Beechjet 400, along with airline operations by US Airways Express with a Beech 1900D. The weather was a repeat of last year's show - bad. Saturday's show was a washout, and Sunday's show suffered from a very low ceiling that would not lift. There were times where the sun would peak through but it wasn't enough to burn off the layers of overcast.
The flying portion of the show was supposed to begin with the B-24, a B-25, and the B-29 departing to Dover to perform a flyby over Dover Downs for the NASCAR race, but the weather over at Dover was even more soupy than at Reading, so the flyby and the race was cancelled for the day. However, a nice little surprise flyby was inbound - a KC-10 Extender from McGuire AFB. He flew two passes before departing, and these were the best flybys ever performed by a KC-10 crew in a very long time. The first pass consisted of a rather low pass with the boom down, going pretty fast and making some noise - something a KC-10 doesn't do a lot of, unless you stand near one on final approach. The second pass brought the aircraft around the airport in a nice, tight turn with the gear and flaps extended. He came down on the deck, as if he was about to land! Approaching show center, the crew raised the gear, applied full power, and climbed out.
The C-54 was taken out of the static display and running the #2 engine, as it performed the arrival of General MacArthur and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I thought this was neat, and it showed off how FDR made his way around with a cane and not in a wheelchair (because he was striken with polio as a kid). The national anthem was being played after FDR got off the C-54 as well as an older rendition of God Bless America. The primary trainers were the first set of warbirds to take to the skies. In the flight were the PT-19, PT-26s, and all of the L-Birds. What made this year's World War II Weekend really interesting was that the majority of the announcing during the flying display was being done by Howdy McCann, rather than one of the museum's announcers. The PTs kept their altitude while the L-Birds were in much lower as all of the aircraft flew a racetrack pattern.
After the primary trainers landed, the advanced trainers took to the sky. Two elements of two Texans took to the air, along with single-ship takeoffs of three more T-6s and the Percival Provost. Five of the T-6s formed together to fly a giant delta formation, with the other two T-6s making individual passes, with the Provost behind them. The formation then flew a giant diamond, along with a trail break to land, with the other three aircraft following suit to land, with the exception of Kevin Russo, who flew lead in the formation, as he went off to set up to fly a solo performance. He had to wait for a Beech 1900D to depart before returning to perform aerobatics. Kevin's solo performance was relegated to a low show because of the overcast, but he was able to get in a lot of vertical maneuvers, mainly loops and Cuban Eights.
Larry Kelly took the B-25J Mitchell Panchito out for several flybys, the first of which was a pop-up delivery with the bomb bay doors open. The second and third passes were flat passes, as the fourth, fifth, and sixth passes were all photo passes, while the final pass was a pitch to land. After the B-25 landed, it was time for the Pacific fighters to take to the air, and that included the Val, the TBM Avenger, and the FG-1D Corsair. The Val made its passes with a smaller radius than the US Navy's aircraft. The Corsair went on to simulate a dogfight with the Val, with the Corsair coming out victorious. The Val and the TBM landed, with the TBM demonstrating how its wings folded back when it got towards the taxiway in front of the crowd.
Dan Dameo put the FG-1D Corsair through a very short aerobatic demonstration, similar to the one Kevin Russo flew, but without smoke. After landing, he taxied in front of the crowd in the same area where the TBM landed and shut down the engine as a mock Axis/Allied battle was taking place on another end of the show area. The battle scenario is one of the main reasons for attending World War II Weekend for someone who isn't into the aviation aspect as much as I am. The entire battle was going on while one of the L-birds was flying around playing scout.
After a little break in the action to clean up the battle area, Ed Shipley took off in the P-51D Mustang Bald Eagle as well as Captain Matt Kouchoukos flying the A-10 Warthog. The two performed the Heritage Flight, and since Capt. Kouchoukos could not fly the A-10 demo because of the ceiling, the two took the Heritage Flight and expanded it to include double the number of flybys you would normally see at an airshow. The first half of the flight was with the P-51 leading the formation while the second half was with the A-10 leading the formation, which was a very nice treat. After the break, Ed Shipley performed a low pass in the P-51 while Capt. Kouchoukos landed. Both the A-10 and the P-51 taxied back to their ramp in formation, which was also nice!
The C-47 and C-60 took part in the transport flight, which took place after the Heritage Flight. Both aircraft flew about three passes from the right, instead of the usual left-hand direction normally seen at Reading. The C-60 was flown at a lower altitude than the C-47, and both aircraft performed a nice photo pass before landing. The C-47 then shut down near the parked Cessna 172, Waco, and Stearman that were giving rides, effectively blocking a strategic portion of runway that would be effective for photo ops. The final flight of the day would be from the other two B-25s - Yankee Warrior and Briefing Time, the B-17 Yankee Lady, the Supermarine Spitfire, the P-38 Lightning, and the P-51D Mustang Glamorous Gal. The B-25s and the two USAAF fighters were started up in front of the crowd in two different areas while the Spitfire was taken elsewhere to start up. I was near the B-25s when they started up and they have a very smoky startup. All of the fighters and bombers made passes down the runway in an unusual order, instead of all fighters then bombers, it was intermixed, or so it seemed.
After all of the fighters and bombers made a photo pass, the two B-25s landed and let the other four aircraft to set up to fly a missing man formation to close out the flying display of the show. It was an unusual missing man formation as it consisted of the B-17 flying lead, the Spitfire, the P-51 and the P-38, with the P-38 pulling out of the formation and later on performing one more photo pass before letting the P-51 and Spitfire to land. The P-38 was next to land, along with the B-17 and all of the warbirds went on to taxi in front of the crowd to shut down, with the exception of the B-17, which went back to its parking spot. The missing man formation was actually created to include the B-17 to honor the passing of the late (retired) Col. Bob Morgan, who was was a long time supporter of the Museum and had attented World War II Weekend for several of years as a guest speaker. I would also say it would be appropriate to add that the missing man would also be dedicated to former President Ronald Reagan, who passed away on June 5. I spent time during, before, and after the flying display chatting with Fast Eddie, Greg Witmer, and David Schultz - all of whom I want to thank for getting me out to the sound truck, as well as checking out Fifi one last time before getting a bite to eat and headed home. I also want to thank Greg for taking time out to send me a press pass for the show.
Under the new rating system, consisting of either Excellent, Very Good, Good, Okay, Eh, or Poor, with a Plus and/or Minus when necessary, the 2004 World War II Weekend falls under the Good minus category because of the crappy weather. I will be back next year, though!
Tentative Military Demonstrations
Announcer: Howdy McCann