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Warbirds at the 2014 Reno Air Races

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The 51st National Championship Air Races brought a large number of warbirds to the Nevada desert. Some competed in the air, some competed on the ground, while others were just displayed to honor their military heritage.

The races have always attracted a fair amount of veteran aircraft, especially since three of today’s race classes (Jet, T-6 and Unlimited) are almost exclusively flown using retired military aircraft. Especially with the Unlimited class, airframe and powerplant modifications, plus the eye-catching color schemes may not yield faithful reproductions of past glories. However, at the plane’s core it’s still a warbird – however customized. Easily half of the warbirds at Reno this year were racers; here’s a primer of what each of these three classes attracted.

The T-6 Class has strict rules on modifying North American AT-6, SNJ, or Harvard racers. The airframes and powerplants remain strictly stock; the filling of airframe gaps and polishing is allowed but the Pratt and Whitney radial engines can’t be modified past the original manufacturer’s tolerances on components.

The Jet Class limits participation by aerodynamic design and powerplant, allowing “participation by any non-after-burning jet with less than 15° of wing sweep”. A few attempts with aerodynamic enhancements – like wingtip vortex fences – were noted this year. A sole SIAI-Marchetti S.211 joined Aero Vodochody L-29s and L-39s, and a PZL TS-11 Iskra trainer in the air. All of these are former military training aircraft.

The Unlimited Class requires a piston engine as the sole source of propulsion, but after that, pretty much anything goes. Some aircraft look very stock while others are barely recognizable from their former selves. Fighter aircraft find favor in this class as their speed and airframe strength are desired as building blocks to make the ultimate Unlimited racer. This year, multiple Sea Furies and Mustangs were joined by single examples of YAK-11, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, and F4U Corsair fighters. Add another warbird into the mix… race starter Steve Hinton flew a T-33 while sorting out the airborne participants.

There were two other venues at the2014 Races where warbirds assembled. The Commemorative Air Force displayed a trio of flyable World War II standouts: a Zero, Hellcat, and Spitfire, plus an F8F Bearcat too. In the pits was a private Hawker Sea Fury too.

The National Aviation Heritage Invitational drew an abundance of warbirds, all in pristine condition, to the show. Aircraft with civil and military backgrounds are judged by experts and spectators alike, competing for trophies in 6 classes including Warbirds, Large Aircraft and the People’s Choice. Rick Clemens’ North American A-26C Invader won the Large Aircraft award this year, beating out a PV-2 Harpoon and C-47. Brian Reynolds’ FG-1D Corsair won the Military award, as well as the People’s Choice trophy.

There were some rare sights in the NAHI compound… a Bell AH-1G Cobra shared the ramp with an OV-10B Bronco. A pre-World War II F3F-2 replica biplane fighter wore the markings of the U.S. Marines. Trainers, and a Lockheed Orion monoplane – painted as an Army Air Corps transport, gleamed in the sun.

To be sure, the National Championship Air Races’ allure of noise and speed is a no-brainer, but as a warbird aviation show the event presents quite a showcase of former military hardware too.

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Warbirds Nest in Anchorage

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Alaska has quite a number of warbirds that still earn their keep carrying freight and passengers. If you spend a few days around Alaskan airports, you’ll hear and see retired military transports such as Douglas C-118 Liftmasters (DC-6), C-47/R4D/C-117 Skytrains (DC-3), DHC U-6/L-20 Beavers, and even the odd Curtiss C-46 Commando. Imagine my surprise though when I drove by the ramp at Anchorage’s Merrill Field and spied a few trainers and even a fighter in the distance.

Honestly, the first airplane that caught my attention wasn’t a warbird at all, but a bright orange, rather ungainly-looking monoplane – Alaska Air Museum’s American Airplane and Engine Pilgrim 100B, still wearing its original NC709Y registration. After hastily (and carefully, I might add…) reversing course, I pulled into a parking lot and there sat a number of warbirds near the Pilgrim; a pair of silver T-6s, a yellow Harvard, and – wait – was that a Zero replica? Looking closer, I was amazed to gaze upon an actual Mitsubishi Zero. As I walked up to the chain link fence, a pilot driving through an exit gate mentioned that I could probably get on the ramp for photos if I asked someone inside the adjacent hangar. And so I did, and the door opened for me to the Wings of Freedom Alaska Flying Museum.

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Reading, PA WWII Weekend

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“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”   President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke those immortal words nearly seventy-three years ago and again, reenacted by Delmas P. Wood, in Reading, PA in remembrance of World War Two.

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum holds its annual World War II Weekend and Air Show the first weekend in June.  This year marked the Museum’s twenty-fourth annual show and the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  The three day event is all authentic, featuring more than 1,700 WWII military and civilian re-enactors along with hundreds of encampments representing nations that were involved in “The War”.  For three days the gates open at 8:30 am to the nation’s largest and best known historic commemoration of life in 1940’s America.   The weekend was dedicated to the “Greatest Generation” not to glorify, but to remember the war.  Strolling the concrete walk and taxiways to the sound of music from the times, weekend visitors mingled with men and women attired in period dress along with meticulously restored farm equipment and bicycles.  While “the boys” were overseas fighting fascism, the home front was holding its own.  Authentic displays included a correctly recreated 1940’s house decorated with food stuffs and household items, and a fully stocked department store selling period goods.  Museum quality vintage cars were lined up with gas ration cards in hand at the fully restored visible pump Gulf filling station.  “Flo” was in uniform, cheerfully providing full service including checking your oil and washing the windshield.  Continuing on, sightseers passed by an air raid warden’s station and a pile of scrap metal collected for the war effort.  Listening to a live radio broadcast from the studio of “WRDG”, appropriately clad youngsters were busy playing board games, rolling by on skates and playing jacks or shooting marbles.  And everywhere, the Red Cross was eagerly collecting donations.

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Naval Aviation Heritage on Display in Rhode Island

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The Quonset Air Museum is housed in one of the last surviving buildings of what once was the mightiest Naval Air Station (NAS) in the northeastern U.S.. The hangar was originally used as a paint shop for reconditioned aircraft; today part of it acts as a repair and restoration facility for the all-volunteer museum staff as they rebuild and maintain almost two dozen former military aircraft. Before we take a closer look at the aircraft collection, here’s some of the rich history that surrounds the area.

The need for a large northeastern U.S. naval air station was identified as early as the 1920s, but one wasn’t commissioned until just a few months prior to the beginning of World War II. NAS Quonset Point was built on the shores of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, taking advantage of a naturally deep channel for a port. Initially, the base hosted aircraft which flew “neutrality” patrols, housed training and aircraft maintenance functions, and readied itself to receive locally-based aircraft carriers. When war was declared, the base gained an anti-submarine mission, more training aircraft arrived and a heavily-tasked Overhaul and Repair (O & R) aircraft maintenance depot evolved. Throughout the war, these functions kept the base running in excess of 100% of its pre-war planned capacity.

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