Planes of Fame Air Show brings out the best

The Planes of Fame Museum presented its 2017 warbird air show at Chino, California, on May 6-7, with practice flights and arrivals on the preceding Friday.

The museum, a long-time pillar of the busy warbird scene at Chino, has earned a reputation for attracting top warbirds from several states for its annual air show, in addition to flying some of its own one-of-a-kind military machines. This year, about 50 warbirds were in attendance.

The air show layout at Chino includes a fantastic row of fighters parked for inspection by the crowd. Four Mustangs, foreground, share the stage with two Curtiss P-40s and five Corsairs with wings folded. (All Photos by Frederick A. Johnsen)

The show commemorated the 60th anniversary of the museum, and a daily flight demonstration paid special honors to museum founder Edward T. Maloney who died last year at age 88.

Each morning the Planes of Fame’s Northrop N9M flying wing, joined by the museum’s Boeing P-26 and Seversky AT-12, flew in front of the crowd to honor Maloney’s pioneering contributions to air museums.

Four other museum fighters followed, performing a missing-man formation in tribute to Maloney.

The event’s organizers blended a fleet of flying warbirds with daily interviews of veterans, plus a re-enactors’ encampment on site. The veterans and re-enactors, in their own ways, humanized the stories of the remarkable warbirds.

An enthusiastic but inexorably dwindling cadre of World War II veterans told their stories over the show’s public address system while attendees gathered around the veterans’ broadcast tent.

Two early-model Mustangs fly in formation at Chino: The Planes of Fame Museum’s P-51A led the P-51C “Boise Bee” from Warhawk Air Museum of Nampa, Idaho.

This year, Vince Speranza, a veteran of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, recalled incidents during the Battle of the Bulge, and concentration camp internee Stephen Nasser told his story of survival.

Only when the two men met at Chino and compared stories did it become apparent that Speranza was one of the troops liberating the camp in which Nasser was imprisoned. That realization, and their meeting, was described as “overwhelming” by Harry Geier, Planes of Fame director of marketing and development.

It’s a pretty good bet that attendees at an air show highlighting World War II aircraft are predisposed to appreciate the sacrifices of veterans, and the crowd showed its respect for those who participated in that war, as well as veterans of all eras.

Attendance at this year’s show was figured at 26,000, Geier said.

The world’s only flying P-26 pursuit, carrying the markings of a squadron from nearby March Field, chugged around the pattern in a flying demonstration at Chino. Acquiring the P-26 was an early triumph of the museum.

The show included several one-and-only flying examples of historic military aircraft, including the museum’s wooden Northrop N9M flying wing, the circa-1933 Boeing P-26 pursuit, and the AT-12 derivative of the Seversky P-35, a later 1930s design.

Planes of Fame operates the only flyable Seversky AT-12, a variation on the P-35 pursuit plane of the late 1930s.

And the Planes of Fame’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter is the only Zero of a handful of flying examples that is still powered by an original Japanese Sakae radial engine.

Only place in the world where two Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters were flying was the 2017 Planes of Fame air show. Fighter on the right is the Planes of Fame restoration, the only Zero still flying with its original Japanese Sakae engine. Zero on the left is from the Commemorative Air Force. It is powered by a Pratt and Whitney R1830 engine.

From Casa Grande, Arizona, the only flying World War II Convair PB4Y-2 Privateer patrol bomber came to Chino for static and flying display.

The world’s only flying PB4Y-2 Privateer patrol bomber came to Chino from Casa Grande, Arizona for static and flying displays. The Privateer’s lineage, descended from the B-24 Liberator, is evident in its graceful Davis wing spanning 110 feet.

Two scarce Douglas Dauntless dive bombers also flew during the show, as did one FM-2 Wildcat, a single F6F Hellcat, a P-63 Kingcobra, a P-38 Lightning, a Spitfire Mk XIV, a movie replica Val dive bomber, a TBM Avenger, a pair of Yak-3s, two B-25s, three Curtiss P-40s, five Vought Corsairs, and legions of powerful P-51 Mustangs.

Five high-performance Vought Corsair fighters, wings folded, graced the flightline at Chino in the early morning before flying activities.

A pair of Douglas C-47 Dakotas represented World War II airborne operations in daily flights.

Three big twin-engine F7F Tigercat fighters were at the show; one flew daily. A Douglas Skyraider in Vietnam-era U.S. Navy markings flew, as did a lone North American Texan trainer.

Flying jet warbirds were represented by an F-86, T-33, and MiG-15. This year, a new Lockheed F-35 jet fighter from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, flew heritage formations with specially selected and trained vintage warbird pilots in P-51s, a P-38, and the F-86.

A dramatic pitchout by two P-51 Mustangs climaxed the heritage flight with a new F-35 Lightning II jet fighter and a vintage P-38 Lightning of World War II during the Friday arrival day at Chino for the Planes of Fame weekend air show.

While it may have been primarily about the warbirds, the Planes of Fame air show also scheduled some non-warbird fliers, including Rob Harrison, billed as the Tumbling Bear in his red Zlin 142C monoplane, Philip Steinbec in an Extreme, and Kent Pietsch who performed mesmerizing aerobatics in a bright yellow Interstate Cadet known as the Jelly Belly airplane for its sponsor.

In addition to mass warbird flybys, a unique individual warbird demonstration was flown by David Vopat each morning in the Planes of Fame N9M flying wing.

Solo warbird demonstrations and aerobatics were flown by Stew Dawson in an F7F Tigercat, Dennis Sanders in a Hawker Sea Fury, Steve Hinton in a Corsair, and Greg Colyer flying a T-33 Shooting Star.

The Planes of Fame Museum has earned a place in the warbird pantheon as a pioneering flying museum collection. The museum’s annual air show at Chino is a sensory feast of massive radial and liquid-cooled warbird engine sounds accentuating the visual spectacle of so many historic military aircraft in flight.