It’s shaping up to be a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle: A parade of at least 15 American World War II era aircraft will take to the skies this weekend, and fly low around the coastline of Oahu to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.
The aircraft include a B-25 medium bomber of the sort used in the Doolittle Raid, a Wildcat carrier-based fighter plane and two PBY-5 Catalina patrol seaplanes.
The flybys will take place on both Saturday and Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. each day. The planes will take off from Wheeler Army Airfield, and from there will fly counterclockwise around Honolulu and the Windward side on Saturday, and around Haleiwa and the Leeward Coast on Sunday.
The planes will be flying near the shore and should be readily visible.
The flybys are organized by the federally chartered 75th Commemoration of the End of WWII, and are part of the runup to Sept. 2, when a third flyover will be held and the formal end of the war will be observed on the deck of the battleship Missouri, where the Japanese surrender papers were signed.
The event is an homage to the courage and tenacity of the crews who fought the air war, according to Rod Bengston, director of restoration services at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island.
Airframes and navigational instruments were much less developed than they are now, he said. The aircrews were defending the country “over an ocean where if something goes wrong you don’t get back.”
Producing a show like this requires work by specialist mechanics to keep the aging planes safe to fly. Old warbirds were high-maintenance even when they were new, Bengston said.
Saturday’s schedule calls for a takeoff from Wheeler at 10 a.m., then on past Waipahu, Aloha Stadium, Diamond Head, around to Laie and Haleiwa and back to Wheeler. Sunday’s schedule goes to the Leeward Coast, starting at 10 a.m. at Wheeler, heading to Haleiwa, Kaena Point, Ford Island and back to Wheeler.
Saturday’s schedule calls for a takeoff from Wheeler at 10 a.m., then on past Waipahu, Aloha Stadium, Diamond Head, around to Laie and Haleiwa and back to Wheeler.
Sunday’s schedule goes to the Leeward Coast, starting at 10 a.m. at Wheeler, heading to Haleiwa, Kaena Point, Ford Island and back to Wheeler.
Now some parts like tires and hoses are hard to find. Some technologies are unfamiliar to modern mechanics, such as 1700 horsepower radial piston engines, or fabric-covered control surfaces. And some replacement parts simply have to be machined from scratch.
The exhibition planes are mostly based on the mainland and were transported here on the deck of the USS Essex, a Navy amphibious assault ship.
The view of Pearl Harbor from the air reminds the flyover pilots of just how dense and chaotic the scene must have been on Dec. 7.
Syd Jones is a pilot of the B-25 medium bomber. He is struck “at how small the area is; your passover time is only a few seconds.”
As a result, it was “a very challenging airspace” for the coordination and maneuvers needed in the Japanese attack, he said.
The planes in the flyby cover a variety of World War II types. They are scheduled in this order:
• Globe Swift. A two-seat sport plane introduced just after the war, in 1946.
• B-25 Mitchell. A twin-engine, twin-tailed, land-based medium bomber. Sixteen of these planes were used in the Doolittle Raid, an early, largely symbolic strike on Japan made to retaliate for the Pearl Harbor attack. These planes flew from the aircraft carrier Hornet in April, 1942, and bombed Tokyo and other sites. Little physical damage was done, but the raid helped restore American morale and a sense of initiative. The planes had to launch 170 miles earlier than planned, because the strike force was spotted by a patrol boat, and as result all of the planes were lost, none reaching their planned destinations in China. Doolittle at first thought he would be court-martialed for the losses; he was instead promoted to brigadier general.
• P-51 Mustang. A long-range bomber escort with an underbelly air scoop, used mainly in the European Theater, and considered by many the best fighter design of the war.
• TBM Avenger. A torpedo bomber with a three-man crew. A young George H.W. Bush was flying one of these when he was shot down in the western Pacific in 1944, and rescued by the submarine Finback. He had named his plane Barbara after his future wife and First Lady.
• Four T-6 Texans. An advanced low-wing training plane, the successor to the older-design Stearman biplane trainer.
• Two PBY-5 Catalinas. These were high-wing, long-endurance flying boats, used for patrol and early warning in the days before effective radar; dozens of them were destroyed during the attacks on Oahu. Another was lost with all hands in April 1942, when it was returning from a 12-hour patrol at night and in foul weather, mistook the Makapuu lighthouse for the Barbers Point light, and crashed into the hillside. A plaque at the top of the Makapuu trail commemorates this event.
• Two Stearman trainers. A basic biplane training plane for novice pilots, used early in the war, commonly painted yellow.
• T-28 Trojan. A later, postwar training plane.
• F-8 Bearcat. A late-war design, representing the last and highest development of the piston-engined fighter plane.
• Grumman Wildcat. A landmark plane in the history of the Pacific War, because it was the first American design that could hold its own against the Japanese Zero. It was somewhat slower than the Zero, but only by about 13 miles per hour, and was more rugged and performed better at high speeds. Although later replaced by the F-6 Hellcat, it was the Wildcat that held the line and turned the war around for the Americans.
All these planes posed hardships and risks to their wartime crews. Syd Jones, the B-25 pilot, described a long overwater flight such as the Doolittle Raid.
“It’s a very small plane inside … and there is a lot of noise, a low-frequency vibration all through the aircraft that kind of wears you out.”
Which is the sort of endurance being commemorated this weekend.
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