2016 Event Review

Warbirds Over The Beach, May 20-22, 2016
Location: Virginia Beach, VA
Admission: adults $30/day ($50/all three days) youth $15 ($25/all 3 days)
Parking: Free - included in price
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: 7 due to weather
 

The Messerschmitt Me 262

This annual fundraiser for Virginia's Military Aviation Museum provides visitors with a trip back in time to the memorable days of World War II. Hundreds of re-enactors fill the museum grounds as WWII warplanes fill the air. Unfortunately, this year the weather did not cooperate - it was a cloudy and soggy weekend. However, Friday - the day that the re-enactors setup their camps and displays, and visiting warplanes arrived, was a beautiful day. Without the normal crowds of visitors, I was privy to an almost-private tour of the museum which includes a WWI hangar filled with wood and fabric bi-planes and tri-planes and a Luftwaffe hangar relocated from Germany and filled with German aircraft. The museum site also includes a newly-reconstructed English control tower that once served on an airbase in Goxhill, England.

The Military Aviation Museum features one of the world's largest private collections of historic military aircraft. Founded in 2005 by Gerald Yagen, each aircraft is restored to flying condition in accordance with the museum's mission to preserve, restore and fly historic aircraft to ensure that the past does not remain in the past. The Military Aviation Museum's aircraft collection continues to grow, recently adding a fully-restored Messerschmitt BF-109G4. A fantastic addition since there are only two Mersserchmitt's in the world that continue to fly. I had the great fortune on Friday to watch Mr. Yagen's BF-109 on its maiden flight in the U.S.A and stand so close to it that I could almost feel the spirit of the German that once flew this aircraft.

On Friday, the day before the start of the "official" show, there are no promises as to what planes will arrive and fly. But on this spectacular day the sky's were magnificent and full. A 1944 North American B-25J Mitchell bomber is part of the museum's inventory. The B-25 was one of America's most famous airplanes of WWII with a total of 9,816 built. The B-25J Mitchell at the Military Aviation Museum was built in Kansas in late 1944. It was equipped with a dome in the nose and surveillance equipment in the fuselage. Following WWII the surveillance equipment was removed and it was converted into a training aircraft. Since 1958 it has had several civilian owners including Arthur Jones, the inventor of the Nautilus exercise equipment company, who had lost it to a Cincinnati sheriff's office after a planned publicity stunt did not go as planned. The museum acquired this aircraft in 1997, underwent a comprehensive restoration, and joined the museum's ranks in 2008.

The Douglas C-47 Dakota is a military transport aircraft developed from the civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner. Affectionately known as the "Gooney Bird" it was used extensively by the allies during WWII. It originally served with the 12th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater in 1943 and the 9th Air Force in England 1944-45 as part of the 316th Troop Carrier Group. It was one of the lead aircraft of the first strike on the D-Day invasion over Normandy, transporting paratroopers for the 82nd Airborne Division. It continues to remain in front line service with various military operators. For the museum, their C-47A "Whiskey 7' participates in The Airborne Demonstration Team's parachute jumps aimed at educating people about the parachute jumping style of WWII airborne soldiers.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina was an American flying boat and later an amphibious aircraft of the 1930's and 1940's. During WWII, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue) and cargo transport. The PBY was the most numerous aircraft of its kind and the last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the late 1980's. The aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber in aerial firefighting operations all over the world. The museum's PBY-5A Catalina was built in 1943 and flew wartime patrols from French Morocco, south to the Canary Islands, north to the Strait of Gibraltar and as far west as the Azores. Late in 1944 it was used in patrols and anti-submarine sweeps protecting the approaches to New York. In 1945 its armaments were removed and it was loaned to the U.S. Coast Guard. It was removed from the Navy's inventory in 1956 with 3,567 flying hours. In 1961 it gained its civilian registration. It's nose turret was removed and the side blisters were replaced with cargo door and a new seat arrangement. It was used in Alaska to ferry passengers to fishing sites. In 1978, bulk liquid cargo tanks were installed to haul as much as 1,500 gallons of fuel to remote parts of Alaska. What happened to the plane next is unknown, but in 1985 it was seized by U.S.Marshals as part of a drug-smuggling case. It was forfeited to the federal government and sold to a new owner who began restoring it to WWII condition. In 2001, the Military Aviation Museum obtained this aircraft and spent the next 10 years completing it restoration.

The TBF Avenger is an American torpedo dive bomber developed for the U.S. Navy and Marines. It entered service in 1942 and first saw action in the Battle of Midway to destroy enemy U-boats. They were often accompanied by F-4F Wildcat fighters that would strafe surfaced U-boats with gunfire forcing them to submerge. Once submerged, the Avengers would deploy their Fido torpedoes tat could detect, target and destroy the submarine. The Military Aviation Museum's 1945 TBM-3E Avenger was listed as a Pool aircraft, ready to be assigned to any squadron at a moment's notice. In February 1946 it was shipped to Pearl Harbor to serve as a Pool aircraft. Over the next 7 years it was posted at various naval air stations throughout the U.S. and deployed aboard various ships. The U.S. Navy officially retired this aircraft on April 2, 1956 with only 1,227 hours logged. Civilian duty for the Avenger began in 1963 in Idaho where it was converted to an Air Tanker dedicated to aerial firebombing capable of dropping 600 gallons of retardant on a single sortie. After nearly 20 years of service as a fire bomber, it was sold and underwent restoration work. The Avenger acquired by the Military Aviation Museum had its rear gun turret to working condition in 2001. On January 10, 2010, the Avenger flew over the commissioning of the USS George H. W. Bush in Norfolk, Virginia in honor of the former president who flew an Avenger during his naval service.

In April 1940, the British Purchasing Commission gave the North American Aircraft Company 120 days to produce a flying advanced fighter prototype. The P-51 Mustang it introduced received outstanding marks with it 1150 hp Allison engine, duct coolant radiator, four .50 caliber guns and four .303 caliber guns an sufficient amount of ammunition. It also was capable of carrying two to four times the amount of fuel as its rivals, making it ideal for long-range missions. When air-to-air combat began to occur at higher altitudes, the Mustang's Allison engines failed to perform well in the thin air, the Mustang was assigned to low altitude recon and photographic missions. In 1942 the U.S. Army Air Corps placed large orders of variants to the P-51 when it realized the potential of the Mustang. A newly-developed Rolls Royce Merlin 60-series engine was installed into the P-51D. A sliding Plexiglass "bubble" canopy improved visibility, and the Mustang's firepower was greatly enhanced with the addition of two .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns. Previously problems with jamming guns was rectified with upright mounting and installation of the K-14 gun sight improved the aircraft's targeting. This innovative targeting system required the pilot to dial in the wingspan of the aircraft being chased, along with the range. An analog computer would calculate the targeting ring on the sight that the pilot would use to determine if he was on target. This advanced targeting system had a great impact on aerial combat victories. The museum's P-51D was built in 1945 and sent to England where it was assigned to the Eighth Air Force. It 1947 it was transferred to Sweden and it 1955 sold to Nicaragua. In 1954 it came to the U.S., changed ownership several times, and was purchased by the Military Aviation Museum in 2004.

The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the world's first operation jet-powered fighter aircraft. Although it's design began in 1939 prior to WWII, engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the German Luftwaffe until mid-1944. It served in two capacities - the Me 262 A-1 Schwalbe (Swallow) was designed as a defense interceptor and the Me 262 A-2 Sturmvogel (Stormbird) served as a fighter/bomber. While the Me 262 lacked the maneuverability of Allied fighters, it was very effective in intercepting Allied bombers. Despite its fighting capabilities, the Me 262 was unable to make a significant impact in WWII because it represented only one percent of the attacking force. Because of its late introduction into WWII only 1,400 Me 262's were produced. Due to maintenance problems, lack of fuel late in the war, pilot shortages, and lack of airfields that could support this aircraft, only 200 Me 262's made it into combat. The Museum's Me 262 was reconstructed by Legend Flyers of Seattle, Washington for the U.S. Navy and arrived at the Fighter Factory's Suffolk facility in October 2011.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 was designed in the late 1930's and was first flown by the Luftwaffe in August 1941. The Fw 190 was superior to the RAF's Spitfire and as more entered the war the balance of air power began to shift. It was used as a fighter, fighter-bomber and ground-attack aircraft. This aircraft was originally flown by Lieutenant Rudi Linz who was shot down by the Allies in 1945 just after claiming his 70th kill. The Military Aviation Museum acquired this 190 A-8, Blue 4 in 2013 and is continuing its work to make it air-worthy once again.

The North American AT-6 was a reliable trainer for military pilots. By 1940, of the 200 hours required for combat pilots, 75 hours were spent in the AT-6. In total, 15,495 AT-6's were produced and trained several hundred thousand pilots. Although it was primarily used as a trainer, the AT-6 did win honors in the war and went on to be used by many other countries as a fighter plane. The museum's AT-6 was produced in 1958 and was retired from military record in 1963.
In 1943, the largest single production of Spitfires was completed at the Castle Bromwich factory near Birmingham, England. One of these aircraft, designated by the Royal Air Force as the Mark IXe Spitfire, was shipped to the port of Casablanca in North Africa. The first operation unit served with the 417 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force to escort a group of USAF B-25 Mitchell bombers during the WWII Italian campaign. It flew 15 sorties in 24 days. In May 1944, this aircraft was transferred to the 154 Squadron of the RAF. It operated from the island of Corsica on 95 missions, escorting America bombers over northern Italy and supporting the invasion of Southern France. In October 1944, the aircraft was transferred to the 32 Squadron of the RAF located at Kolomaki, Greece. This aircraft was chosen by the Squadron Leader, Gorge Silvester, as his personal aircraft. The war ended with the aircraft being flown by the 249 Squadron of the RAF from Yugoslavia in harassment of the retreating Germain forces. After the war it was sold to the newly-formed Italian Air Force. In 1951 it was sold to Israel and served in an Operational Training Unit. It was decommissioned in June 1956 but was saved and moved to a playground in Kabri, near the border of Lebanon, to motivate young Israel children to become fighter pilots. In the 1970's the aircraft was found in dilapidated condition and eventually transported back to England. While initial restoration work was being completed it was sold in 1986 to Fred Smith, the founder and President of Federal Express. The restoration was completed in November 1988 and immediately went up for sale. The aircraft spent the next 10 years in the Midlands area performing at charity events and memorial functions. In 1998, the Military Aviation Museum learned about the possible sale of this aircraft. A contract was signed in May 1999 and the aircraft arrived at the Fighter Factory facilities in Suffolk, Virginia in early 2000.
On display at the museum is a 1949 Junkers JU 52. This German aircraft model was manufactured from 1932 until 1945 and served in both civilian and military capacities. As a civilian aircraft, it flew with over a dozen air carriers as an airliner and freight hauler. As a military aircraft, it flew with the Luftwaffe involved in troop and cargo transport and briefly as a bomber. The museum's Junker Ju 52 was build by CASA in Getafe, Spain. It served in the Spanish Air Force until 1976 but only accumulated 1,500 flight hours. In 1976 it was sold to the Commemorative Air Force, a Texas-based non-profit company committed to the preservation of historic aircraft. The Military Aviation Museum purchased the aircraft in 2010. It is estimated that there are only seven JU 52's flying in the world; the museum's JU 52 is the only one in North America.
 
Report and photography by Brian R. Veprek for The Aviation Magazine with additional courtesy of US Navy.

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