Air Museum's Planes of Fame Airshow 2004
May 16, 2004
Story and photos by W J Pearce
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Air Museum Planes of Fame Airshow 2004 (May 15-16) in Chino, CA. This was the first time I had attended this show and I was hoping for clear skies and cool temperatures. I knew I would not get them but I can hope right?
Over the two days the temps hovered in the upper 80s and the skies were fairly clear for Chino. The bottom line is that my concerns for the temp and sky quickly became lost in a symphony of large reciprocating internal combustion engines. The show is like no other that I have experienced and one that I'm sure to attend again.
With over 70 aircraft on display and over 40 of those set to fly, it is truly a photographer's show. At some points there would be a fly-by every 5-10 seconds, and that could go on for 20 minutes. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let start at the beginning.
To open the show a missing man formation was flown by a F6F-5 Hellcat, F4U-1A Corsair, P-38J Lightning and P-51D Mustang. A truly great opening to start off this warbird saturated event. Then came Rob Harrison in his Canary Yellow Zlin 50. Rob put on a very nice presentation of a variety of airshow aerobatics. Following Mr. Harrison was Margaret Stivers and Hartley Folstad in the Sliver Wings Stearman Biplane Wing Walking Act. Margaret held on tight for a number of great maneuvers. These folks are based in Chino and stopped by the press box to make sure that no questions were left unanswered.
Now it was time for the warbirds to take to the air again and the first flight was the D-Day Invasion Aircraft Display. With the upcoming 60th anniversary of D-day less than a month away, this flight held special significance. With four P-51D Mustangs, a P-47G Thunderbolt, a Grumman TBM-3E Avenger, a Hawker Hurricane Mk X, three Spitfires (Mk IX, XIV, XIX), and a Fairey Firefly AS-6, the aircraft were passing from the left and from the right, down low and up a bit higher. Pass after pass and everyone loved it.
Next came a very special and unique aircraft; the N9MB flown by Ron Hackworth. Mr. Hackworth not only led the 13-year restoration effort for this aircraft but he also put the plane through its paces. His knowledge of the wing was easily seen by his maneuvering to demonstrate for the crowd it's unusual shape. From the low passes the crowd got a great look at every angle: top, bottom, left side, right side, front and back. Combined with the harmonized sound of the two Franklin engines, this performance was nothing short of incredible.
A stark contrast from the wing was the Korean Air War Tail Chase featuring a F-86F Sabre and a MiG 15. These shimmering swept-winged fighters dueled in the sky making a number of low, high-speed passes and incredible climb outs. It's hard to imagine the contrast that these aircraft represented to the WWII fighter veterans who flew them. To go from a new P-51D in 1945 to a new F-86 in 1950 must have been quite an experience.
Next came one of the most jam-packed warbird flights; The Navy Flight. With a SBD-5 Dauntless, FM-2 Wildcat, F6F-5 Hellcat, two F7F Tigercats (-3N, -3P), a F8F-2 Bearcat, AD-6 Skyraider, and F4U-1 Corsair, there was not time to blink. Each aircraft made pass after low crowd-pleasing photo pass. Of particular interest to me was the incredibly tight formation of Richard Bertea and Mike Brown in their Tigercats, the amazingly nice and low passes of the Hellcat, and the Skyraider, expertly maneuvered by owner Bob Broznik, dropping down low and putting it on it's side right in front of the crowd.
As the Navy Flight was recovered, an F/A-18E Super Hornet launched to join up with the Corsair for the Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight. A few great passes and the advancement of airpower and technology over the past 65 years were very apparent. Unfortunately the F-18 was not able to participate in the show on Sunday.
Chino then took a short 25-minute break and I used the time to speak with Frank Mormillo, Planes of Fame's media coordinator. He said that the limiting factor for how many planes can be in the air at one time are pilots. There simply are not enough checked out pilots to get more aircraft airborne at the show. Some pilots were flying 3-4 times each day. I offered my services and by the time Frank stopped laughing it was time for the show to continue. Obviously he has never seen my Cessna 150 tactical demonstration.
Two FM-2 Wildcats, two P-40N Warhawks, two Zeros (A6M3, A6M5) and one P-38J took to the air for the Pacific Air Battle. They battled for a number of minutes until David Prices' Zero was shot down, again, and I had a feeling it would not be the last time. The Air Battle was a great display and the crowd took in every second of the "combat".
Shortly after the Pacific Fighters were recovered, a slightly different sound was heard roaring down the runway. A Hawker Sea Fury T.Mk. 20 came off the ground and retracted it's gear, but did not climb. It's engine screaming, it's prop beating the air senseless, it's Brain Sanders and it's September Pops. I'm beginning to think that Sea Furies have only two power settings: 0% and 110%. This display was amazing. Brain tore trough the sky. He ripped this way, he sliced that way, he came in low, he rolled, he would have shot down that MiG 15 if it had been Korea! (a Hawker Sea Fury was the First piston powered aircraft to down a MiG 15)
Now came the Air Power Formation Flight featuring 25 warbirds (give or take depending on the day). A P-38J Lightning, P-47G Thunderbolt, F4U-1A Corsair, TBM-3 Avenger F6F-5 Hellcat, F7F-3N Tigercat, B-17G Flying Fortress, AD-6 Skyraider, Hawker Sea Fury T.Mk.20, Fairey Firefly AS-6, two P-40Ns Warhawks, two FM-2 Wildcats, two F8F Bearcats (-2, -4), three B-25J Mitchells, and seven P-51D Mustangs all airborne and in formation above the crowd. Truly an awesome display that makes one try to imagine when thousands of a single type would fill the sky during WWII.
Next was the F-16 Viper which took to the sky with full burner for it's tactical demonstration. A number of high-G turns with vapor trails and then the F-16 would punch through the sky. After a few high-speed passes two P-51Ds took off to form up on the F-16 for the USAF Heritage Flight display. This group made several nice, tight passes to wow the crowd.
The F-16 and one P-51 landed to leave a single P-51 airborne, to close the show. Piloted by Steve Hinton, the P-51 performed an aerobatics display that is becoming more rare each passing year. Steve put on an elegant display with was more inline to an aerial ballet than some tumbling aerobatic act. With precision and confidence he maneuvered the Mustang for pass after pass, roll after roll. A perfect end to an excellent show.
As I said, this is quite a show, one that any aviation enthusiast would enjoy; especially the warbird buff or photographer. One thing that I have chosen not to mention until now is the museum itself. This brief review could not even begin to cover the priceless treasures that can be found any day of the week at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino California. Some of their aircraft are the only examples in the world.
So make at least two trips out to Chino, one to spend a day enjoying the museum and its artifacts, and the other to next year's airshow. You won't want to miss it and I'll see you there next year.
For more information on The Air Museum "Planes of Fame" visit http://www.planesoffame.org
Please visit the Planes of Fame Airshow 2004 Gallery for more images.
Copyright Republic Photo Company