Reading World War II Weekend 2022

The 31st Anniversary of Reading WW II Weekend was welcomed with bright sun and warm weather; it was a perfect weekend for this popular air show and WW 2 military re-enactment. The three-day event began on Friday, June 3, and ended Sunday afternoon.

“The attendance this year was close to a record, the crowd estimates for the three day total were close to second of our all-time high”, said Greg Witmer, Airboss and Aircraft Coordinator. In fact it was quite evident from the number of vehicles in the parking lot that this show was well attended. That is especially good news for the Mid Atlantic Air Museum, host of the show, who suffered with a show cancellation in 2020 due to COVID.

While Reading WW 2 Weekend appeals to both military re-enactors with their various half-tracks, Sherman tanks and assorted vehicles, and mock battles that are exciting in their authentic portrayals, there is also the flying display and static aircraft displays. My interest was in the flying display and finding the right location to capture well-lit images of the aircraft in action. To that end I was lucky. I arrived Friday around 10:30 to capture good images of the aircraft that were giving rides as they took off north-west on runway 31. I have found that sometimes I can capture better images on the Friday show, weather permitting, when the plane rides, and show practice routines can yield very interesting images.

For those not familiar with the Reading WW 2 Weekend air show performance, the flying display begins on Saturday and Sunday at 12:00 noon, usually with paratroopers jumping from the Curtiss C-46 Tinker Belle, or a C-47, but that did not happen this year. Instead the show began with a parade of period aircraft taking off in a well thought out sequence according to their historical order. First were the pre-war basic training aircraft in the USAAC blue and yellow paint scheme of that period. These included the open cockpit Boeing Stearman PT-17 and Fairchild PT-19, PT-23 and PT-26 trainers that American and foreign aviation cadets learned to fly before advancing to fighters or bombers to prepare them for their wartime duties.

Next up were the Liaison aircraft that were used during WW 2 in various roles like artillery spotting, observation and command and control and also as unit hacks. These included a number of types beginning with Aeronca L-3 and L-16, Taylorcraft L-2 and Piper L-4 Grasshoppers all wearing authentic wartime paint schemes. These slow flying types flew one by one in a circuit dropping down low and climbing back to altitude, making several passes in front of the large group of spectators. Although these were not the fast moving fighters we all like to see they were still fun to watch.

Following the Liaison aircraft were the Texans; AT-6s and SNJs. For me just the sound of the powerful Wright, or Pratt & Whitney, radial engines of Texans is very nostalgic and reminiscent of the war time experience. Four Texans took off in flights of two and formed into different military formations for each pass they made, including a four ship, in trail, and other formations. It was Kevin Russo in his immaculate SNJ-6 with Pensacola markings that broke away from the formation, as the rest landed, that did an outstanding flight demonstration putting his SNJ through various routines, high speed passes, climbs and loops and the Cuban Eight. All with smoke trailing to further highlight his skilled performance.

P-63A, Kingcobra

For me the stars of the air show, and the main attraction, are the fighters. To see P-51 Mustangs, a P-40 Warhawk or Corsair fly, and to see the only flying Dauntless and Helldiver in the world fly is a special thing not to be taken for granted. And don’t forget the P-39 Aircobra and P-63 Kingcobra. In truth it’s only a matter of time before these 70 year old aircraft will no longer be able to fly and someday be grounded or placed in a museum never to see the sky again. Happily I was not disappointed. The Red Nose P-51D flown by Craig Hutain was a pleasure to see, and the roar of the Mustang’s powerful Packard Merlin engine was magic to hear as Hutain zoomed and climbed over the airfield. I was lucky to capture a few nice images of this performance. A surprise for me was to see for the first time the P-63 Kingcobra. I was amazed at its flying performance and how much it reminded me of the P-51. While the P-63 did not see combat with the USAAC it did serve in the training role. But significant numbers were supplied to the Soviet Air Force under the Lend-Lease Agreement and were successfully employed in the low-level ground attack role. This rare P-63A, serial 42-68941, flown by Mark Todd, was not delivered to the USAAC or Russia, but actually retained by its manufacturer, Bell, as a test aircraft with TEST prominently stenciled on its nose. It was acquired from storage by the CAF Dixie Wing at Falcon Field, Peachtree City, GA for restoration and on February 18, 2017 made its first flight. It was another rare bird at Reading.

Continuing with an outstanding flight performance was the P-40M Warhawk painted in the Flying Tigers scheme, flown by Nick Ziroli. I must confess, I think this was the best looking aircraft at Reading this year. Ziroli’s flight demo was outstandng and followed a similar routine of Craig Hutain in the Mustang. Although painted in Flying Tigers markings, this P-40M was actually delivered to the RCAF and saw service in Canada’s Western Air Command. It was placed in surplus in 1946. The other fighters to perform were the FG-1D Corsair and P-39 Aircobra, as well as the SBD Dauntless and SB2C Helldiver dive bombers. All the while as the fighters and the bombers are flying, the WW 2 re-enactors are hard at work fighting their ground war, Sherman tanks and infantry engaged in an unseen enemy. All very exciting to see and hear with the loud sounds of the pyrotechnic explosions and billowing smoke as the planes fly overhead to provide a war-like visual and audible experience.

B-29A Fifi low pass at Reading WW 2 Weekend 2022

Finally it was time for the bombers. The three heavies, the B-29, B-24 and B-17, are a main attraction, along with a pair of B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. B-29 Fifi is a regular Reading visitor, watching it take off on runway 31 reminded me of an old Victory at Sea episode I saw many years ago featuring B-29s taking off from their base on Tinian Island in the Central Pacific for a mission over Japan. Its custom built Wright R-3350 engines singing in harmony as the big bomber effortlessly took to the air. With the current high cost of aviation gas I wondered how much it cost to taxi and fly several orbits over the field. The same is true for B-24 Diamond Lil and B-17 Yankee Lady, I don’t know what the combined fuel consumption is for the three heavy bombers, but it must be very substantial.

Diamond Lil and Yankee Lady are two truly beautiful airplanes. B-24s and B-17s suffered greatly in their raids over German during WW 2, but its seems the Flying Fortresses received most of the notoriety when featured in hit movies like Command Decision and Twelve O’clock High, both excellent movies and among my favorites. The three heavy bombers followed in trail making low passes over the field with their bomb bay doors open in a mock attack, and banking away to the east to set up for another pass. The sound of the combined 12 radial engines filling the air as the bombers thunder past is a special treat. The bombers landing signaled the end of the four hour flying show.

I look forward to next year to see what surprise visitors Reading will have to entertain us on the ground and flying overhead. Mark your calendars, that show is scheduled for the first weekend in June 2023.
For further information please visit the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s web site at http://www.maam.org and visit their Facebook page at: facebook.com/midatlanticairmuseum/

A pair of SNJs in formation climbs for altitude with a second pair in trail to join up for a four ship flying demonstration. The four Texans then flew over the airfield in various military formations to the delight of the eager spectators below.

B-24 Diamond Lil

Classified as a heavy bomber during WW 2, B-24 Liberators proved invaluable in both the European and Pacific Theaters due to their long range. Diamond Lil is an early production Liberator being the 25th built B-24 produced out of a total of 19, 267 of all variants. Diamond Lil is one of only two airworthy B-24s flying today.

B-29A Fifi low pass at Reading WW 2 Weekend 2022

The massive B-29 Fifi in a low pass during Reading’s World War 2 Weekend on Saturday June 4th, the 4 powerful custom built Wright R-3350 engines effortlessly power the heavy bomber in its flight routine. Fifi is a B-29A, USAF serial 44-62070 and built by Boeing in their large Renton Factory, located on the south shore of Lake Washington, southeast of Seattle.

The Goodyear built FG-1D Corsair, USN serial 92489, at Reading WW 2 Weekend. This FG-1D Corsair is a proud example of Corsairs built by Chance Vought, Goodyear and to a lesser degree by Brewster, to help meet the USN and USMC dire demands for the war in the South Pacific.  The unique bent wing design is to allow ground clearance for its large propeller.

Curtiss-Wright SB2C-5 Helldiver, the only flying example in the world.

This is the only flying example of an SB2C Helldiver in the world and is a regular performer at Reading.  It’s a pleasure to see this example of the carrier wars in the South Pacific still flying. Often referred to as the Big-Tailed Beast, among other names, it was a very effective carrier bomber during WW 2. Rides are available in the rear gunner’s seat for this Navy war veteran.

Nakajima B5N2 Kate, replica.

This Nakajima B5N2 Kate replica, complete with authentic looking torpedo, represents the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier based torpedo bombers used in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Kate replica was built for the 1970 hit movie “Tora, Tora, Tora”.

P-39Q Aircobra take off at Reading

Bell P-39Q Aircobras saw service in the South Pacific during WW 2. They were very effective in strafing and bombing Japanese forces during the island wars in the South Pacific, but due to the lack of a super charger it was limited to medium and low level attacks. P-39s served with the USAAF, RAF and Soviet Air Force.

P-40M, Warhawk, “The Jackie C” demo at Reading WW 2 Weekend. 4 June 2022

The Jacky C is another regular performer at WW 2 Weekend and is a favorite.  Painted in the markings of the historic Flying Tigers,  it was actually delivered to the RCAF in 1943 and was assigned to Canada’s Western Air Command, it was retired as surplus in 1946. In the capable hands of  Nick Ziroli,  he put on an outstanding flying display in this vintage warbird. Jacky C is part of the aircraft collection of The American Airpower Museum, Port Republic, NY.

P-63A Kingcobra, 42-68941, take off at Reading

This P-63A Kingcobra is an early production model manufactured for service in WW 2, but was retained by Bell Aircraft for testing and later transferred to NCAS (now NASA) Ames Research for further flight testing.  The large TEST applied to its nose is a true example of how the Kingcobra was painted at that time.  The Soviet Air Force was the primary operator of  the Kingcobra during WW 2. It is operated by the CAF’s Dixie Wing based at Falcon Field, Peachtree  City, GA.

One of the best looking B-25 Mitchells flying today is Panchito from the Delaware Aviation Museum, Georgetown, DE, seen here as it completes a low pass over the airfield. Take-off Time and Panchito both demonstrated low level bomb runs on Saturday and Sunday.

Take-off Time at Reading WW 2 Weekend 2022

Take-off Time followed Panchito in a low level bombing run starts its climb for another pass in front of the crowd of spectators on Saturday June 4th.

P-51D, Red Nose QP-G, climbing to start demo

Always a show favorite is the P-51 Mustang demonstration, and Craig Hutain, in the cockpit of Red Nose, clearly knows how to put the Mustang to work. Not only did Craig provide the crowd with an outstanding flight demonstration, he also flew paying customers who wanted to experience the undeniable thrill of a P-51 ride.

The Douglas SBD Dauntless Lady In Blue is an important reminder of the great sacrifices of the carrier based dive bomber crews who won the Battle of Midway.  Lady In Blue embraces the memory of the fallen heroes of that time as a flying tribute during her airshow performances. A chance to experience history with a flight in  the rear gunner seat is available before show time.

SNJ Texan Pensacola Kevin Russo in the cockpit of his SNJ painted in pre-WW 2 markings of NAS Pensacola, banks and climbs for altitude to begin his exciting flight demonstration in his immaculate SNJ-6 during the weekend long air show. His routine puts the Texan through loops and dives and high speed passes with smoke trailing for effect.

Show visitors can pay for backseat rides in the Mid-Atlantic Museum’s SNJ-4 painted in WW 2 USN’s Atlantic camouflage scheme adopted around 1944 with NATC (Patuxent River) tail markings.

Boeing Stearman, USAAC

During the pre-WW 2 years, many of America’s military pilots won their wings in Boeing’s ubiquitous PT-17.  Proud owner Ronald Gersten in the cockpit of his beautifully restored PT-17 is one of a group of trainer aircraft that lead off the flying show.

Curtiss-Wright SB2C-5 Helldiver, the only flying example in the world.

Another regular visitor at Reading WW 2 Weekend is the CAF Helldiver, captured here during its flight performance. This is only airworthy and flying Helldiver in the world. Credit must be given to the CAF for the excellent maintenance given to the aging aircraft in their care, many, like this Helldiver, are the only flying examples in the world.

A yellow Aeronca L-16 passes over head during the Liaison Aircraft flying performance portion of the air show. The L-16 is the militarized version derived from the Aeronca Champion Model 7 series. Though not a WW 2 veteran, the Champion served in substantial numbers during the Korean War in both the US Army and National Guard. Flying this L-16 is owner Keith Kaufman.

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