Every year the airshow season goes by faster and faster. The anxiety in the winter months of waiting for the next one to start is almost enough to drive any enthusiast mad. The Wings over Houston Airshow is the last big airshow in North America and following up right after the Midland Airshow just makes it that much more exciting.
Wings over Houston is hosted at Ellington Field where NASA trains their astronauts in T-38’s which were frequently taking off and landing around show hours. Despite being only two days long, the airshow is crammed pack full of warbirds. If there is any Warbird enthusiast who hasn’t gone before, this is the one for you. Over one hundred warbirds were expected to show up for this year’s event but due to the weather fronts that were going through the country only about seventy made it, still more than enough to put on a really good show.
Among the numerous warbirds attending the show, the Commemorative Air Force brought out dozens of aircraft from several CAF locations, including Midland. The only flying SB2C Helldiver, B-24 Liberator “Diamond Lil,” and B-29 Superfortress “FiFi” are just some of the CAF planes that showed up.
Throughout the two days of activities, performances were made by each of these aircraft and others of the same theater in WWII. The bombers slot which consisted of the B-24, B-25, and B-29 made quite an impact during their practice routines on Friday as did Tora! Tora! Tora!, when the pyro teams lit up the grass strip trying to burn off the excess grass for Saturdays performance. To the crowds amazement the field was not completely burned off on Saturday when the field erupted in flame and filled much of the concession stands with smoke. No one was hurt but the air was filled with smoke for some time. This of course was contrasted to Sunday’s performance which due to the abundant rainfall of that night and day, the field was too wet for any pyro.
A very special missing man flight was held on Sunday for the P-51 Mustang, “Galveston Gal,” from Lone Star Flight Museum, when it went down on a paid ride in Galveston Bay days beforehand. Sadly both pilot and passenger were killed. Lone Star Flight Museum, who has been a longtime supporter of Wings over Houston, was uncertain if they were going to be bringing any aircraft to the show after NTSB and FAA shut down air operations during their investigation. Thankfully by Friday they had cleared flight requirements and flew their B-25, “Doolittle Raider,” B-17G Flying Fortress, “Thunder Bird,” and F4U-5 Corsair to the airshow.
Among those that call Ellington Field home, the Texas Flying Legends Museum had their fleet of aircraft out for the public to enjoy. The Texas Flying Legends has always been about the education of today’s generation while paying respect to those that made the ultimate sacrifice for this country in each of its major conflicts. To honor those veterans, Friday, Saturday and through a stroke of the weather, Sunday were arranged as veteran hangout days in their hangar. Starting on Friday, a stage, tables, and catering were all brought in for nineteen WWII veterans in honor of the 345th Bomb Group and the 352nd Fighter Group, along with a few others. The day was filled with stories and conversing with their fellow vets, leading up to a true 50’s night dance with a live band, professional dancers and great costumes. Saturday was a bit more leisurely with the emphasis less on public speaking and more on just enjoying the airshow. The veterans and their families lined the front of the hangar as they sat watching the airshow. Among these great men were three Tuskegee Airmen, Charles McGee, George E. Hardy, and Alexander Jefferson.
With the monsoon that engulfed the field on Sunday, the Legends and Heroes autograph tent was moved to inside the Texas Flying Legends hangar to give a more hospitable environment for the vets. Some of these veterans were triple ace Bud Anderson, Doolittle Raider Richard E. Cole, WWII Corsair Pilot Col. Joe McPhail and Vietnam pilot Maj. Terry Pappas. It worked out beneficially as the weather kept more and more people coming inside to stay dry.
Every afternoon, despite the weather, the Texas Flying Legends went up with their B-25J “Betty’s Dream,” FG-1D Corsair “Whistling Death,” A6M2 Model 21 Zero, “Last Samurai,” P-40K, “Aleutian Tiger,” and two P-51 Mustangs “Little Horse and Dakota Kid II,” to do their battle reenactment. After coming over the field in a diamond formation with the B-25 in the middle, the Zero would split off and come around and get on the B-25’s tail. After a couple minutes of going back and forth along the field, the P-40 would jump in and “smoke” the Zero. The Corsair would then jump in to give a demonstration with duel mustangs coming in last. The whole performance lasts at most 20 minutes but often runs around 15. After the planes are on the ground the pilots debrief and instantly start critiquing their performance. At the end of the day, with the plane down safe and a cold beer in hand, everyone was happy.
Every airshow is unique, creating the desire to try them all; Wings over Houston is no exception. Whether it’s the warbirds or a famous crop duster named “Dusty” that drives you to enjoy these shows, one thing is for certain, any day on a tarmac watching planes, is a good day.
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