Warbirds Over the Beach 2019 – Air Show Report
By A. Kevin Grantham
The Military Aviation Museum (MAM) near Virginia Beach, Virginia, is home to one of the largest collections of airworthy warbirds in the world. Each year, Jerry Yagen, the museum’s founder, shares his passion for aviation and its history with the public by holding a flying extravaganza aptly named Warbirds Over the Beach (WOTB). This year’s event took place over the weekend of May 17/18.
Anyone familiar with the museum knows that Jerry Yagen is constantly adding artifacts to the collection. Some of his newest acquisitions included a Fieseler Storch and Bell P-39F Airacobra. Both of these aircraft arrived just days before the show, so they were not ready to fly, which gives your author another excuse to come back for WOTB 2020. But let’s not get ahead of things. The museum’s Storch is actually a Morane-Saulnier MS-502Criquet, a French-built example of the famous Luftwaffe liaison aircraft known for its very low stall speed and ability to take-off and land in short distances. The rare Bell P-39F (41-2175) arrived disassembled in a shipping container after restoration at Pioneer Aero Ltd in Ardmore, New Zealand. This aircraft is a wartime veteran and one of just three flying examples in the world.
Some of the aircraft on the ramp at the Military Aviation Museum during the show included the examples shown below…
Ground activities at WOTB included four hangers filled with airplanes, cars, and historical weapons. At the end of the ramp sits a WWII vintage Royal Air Force control tower accompanied by an authentic British Nissen hut. The tower came from the former RAF Station Goxhill, the first British airfield formally transferred to the United States Army Air Forces in August, 1942. The original structure was scheduled for demolition. However, Yagen spared no expense in saving the historic structure, having it dissembled in England and then reassembled on the museum’s grounds in Virginia. Today, the Goxhill tower, both inside and out, looks very much as it did in 1942. The show is also blessed with hundreds of re-enactors who set up camp and volunteer, acting as historical representatives of the wartime period. These re-enactors, often dressed in period uniform, play an important role, enhancing the overall WOTB experience with displays of historical hardware from a bygone era.
The flying part for the event began around noon with the National Anthem formation flyover of four North American T-6/SNJ trainers. It was followed shortly after that by the whirring screech of an air raid siren warning the public of an imminent, loud boom. Two shots from a German 88mm flak cannon echoed heavily in the sky as additional trainer and liaison aircraft joined the aerial parade. In years past, pilots flew a diagonal pattern bisecting the far western section of the runway. This year, however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a new plan that allowed the performers to fly parallel to the runway, 500 feet out and above the crowd line, giving the spectators a better vantage point to compare aircraft characteristics and engine sounds. Another change came in the form of new steel planks spanning the soft ground between the hangar apron and the hardened crown of the runway. Now aircraft can safely taxi to the runway without sinking into the ground on a wet day, as has happened in the past.
Next up on the show schedule came the heavy iron and the fast-moving airplanes in Jerry Yagen’s collection. A Consolidated PBY Catalina, a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, along with an Eastern Aircraft FM-2 Wildcat and TBM Avenger, all representing the Pacific Theater of Operations part of the air show. The PBY, in particular, is a rare flying example of the long-range patrol bomber similar to the type that detected the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. Besides its rarity, the FM-2 is also special to the collection because it actually served in the Virginia Beach area during World War II. Later, a Douglas AD-4 Skyraider joined the mix, expanding the salute to include Korean and Vietnam War veterans, as well.
The museum’s North American B-25J Mitchell sped over the airfield with her bomb bay doors open in tribute to the Doolittle Raid on Japan of April 18, 1942. Special recognition was of course given to Col. Dick Cole, the last surviving Raider, who passed away at the age of 103 this April. Yagen’s bare metal North American P-51D Mustang escorted the Mitchell and later participated in formation flybys with a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and North American P-64 replica.
The Military Aviation Museum is the single place on the planet where one can see flying examples of a Junkers Ju 52 transport, Messerschmitt Bf 109G, and Focke-Wulf Fw 190. The Ju 52 was the Luftwaffe’s main transport aircraft from the early 1930s until 1945. As the museum’s example flew around the field, one could see how the Ju 52’s high lift wing and slow flying speed gave it a tactical advantage for landing on short, unprepared strips in support of front-line troops. However, this benefit also made the Ju 52 far more vulnerable to enemy fighters, such as the MAM’s fast-moving Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire.
The show closed with Spitfire, Hurricane, Bf 109, Fw 190, and Yak-3 flybys. Unlike previous years, the weather was nearly perfect for the show, and it was clear that both the crowd and the pilots were having a lot of fun. Eventually, the Spitfire, Hurricane, and Yak-3 landed, leaving the Fw 190 and Bf 109 pilots to enjoy the uncrowded sky. As the waiver for controlled airspace began to wind down, Air Boss, Greg Witmer radioed, ”I guess you all will let me know when you are ready to land?” Mike Spaulding, MAM’s chief pilot, responded cheekily with, “Never!”
2019’s edition of Warbirds OverThe Beach appeared to entertain everyone whom attended by vividly illustrating the sights and sounds of aviation history. One can only image what Jerry Yagen might come up with next for his museum’s premier event, but the best way to find out will be to make plans, now, to attend Warbirds Over the Beach 2020!
The author would like to thank Jerry Yagen for the opportunity to cover the event and to Chris Vtipil and Mike Potter for their vital assistance. I would like to also reach out the Air Boss Greg Witmer and Ted Schwartz for their support as well.
Many, many thanks to A.Kevin Grantham for this report, as well as his magnificent photographs which illustrate it.