The aerial display portion of Warbirds Over the Beach 2013 was severely hampered by bad weather. While we surely would have liked to be able to see the full program, having travelled a fair distance to attend the show, as a result of the cancelled aerial events we had the opportunity to have lengthy conversations with our fellow aviation enthusiasts in the museum’s hangars as we waited for breaks in the rain that never really materialized, allowing for much more in-depth interaction than would have been possible had the show been going full swing.
Warbirds Over the Beach is one of the two signature annual events on the Military Aviation Museum‘s (MAM) calendar, the other being their World War One show held in the fall, called Biplanes and Triplanes. Warbirds Over the Beach was also scheduled to be the public debut of the museum’s recently restored de Havilland Mosquito, on which we recently reported, having just been reassembled by the museum’s Fighter Factory Division after it had been brought back from the dead by Avspecs, Ltd. in New Zealand.
Friday was a beautiful day, and we were fortunate to be there for the test flights of some of the historic aircraft in attendance, most of which as it turned out would not get to participate at the air show due to the inclement weather. The highlights of Friday’s flights had to be the Avro Lancaster, Curtiss C-46 Commando and the North American B-25 Mitchell. Also notable flights included, Museum founder and owner, Jerry Yagen flying his P-51 Mustang ““Double Trouble Two”, the museum’s Focke-Wulf FW-190, piloted by Ray Fowler, while the Fighter Factory’s Chief Pilot, Mike Spalding took the Mosquito up for some airtime.
The BBC had sent a crew to capture video of what is now the world’s only flying Mosquito, shooting from a helicopter as the plane was put through its paces, and we were fortunate to have esteemed aviation photographer Luigino Caliaro of Aerophoto on hand shooting air to air photos of these historic craft from the cockpit of a T-6 Texan.
The weather Saturday was, in a word: terrible. We took the opportunity to travel out to Suffolk where the museum keeps their Messerschmitt Me 262 as the plane requires a paved tarmac so it is unable to be kept at the Museum which has a turf airfield. We were invited to take the trip by Wolfgang Czaia, the Messerschmitt’s pilot who gave us a ride there in one of the MAM’s cars, a Chrysler PT Cruiser painted to resemble a staff car assigned to General Patton. Though it’s never been one of our favorite cars and the custom paint job is somewhat tongue in cheek, the overall affect was undeniably striking. Once we arrived at the hangar we had plenty of time to get to know Wolfgang and the plane’s mechanic as the weather was truly terrible with a very low ceiling which precluded flying. We also spied some other of the museum’s planes in this offsite location, an A-26 Invader presently undergoing restoration, a Sea Fury and a Focke-Wulf FW-190 in a sorry state that is awaiting its restoration to begin. Reportedly Yagen has approximately 70 restoration projects at various stages of completion scattered all across the globe which, like the Mosquito, will be sent to Virginia Beach once they’re completed. After an hour or so there was a break in the weather and Czaia was given the go-ahead to get airborne and do some fly-bys of the Museum’s grounds for the intrepid show-goers and reenactors who were still onsite braving the rain. We were very fortunate to be just feet away as the Me-262 started up, took off and landed and it was a thrilling experience we will likely never forget.
The weather Sunday started off quite well, and we took the opportunity to check out the planes on the flight line and those on static display, the C-46 managed to take off and dropped para-trooping reenactors, but that was pretty much the only flight of the day as the weather got really bad, eventually forcing the cancellation of the remaining aerial performances.
Once again hangar-bound, we had the privilege and honor of getting to have a lengthy conversation with legendary aviator extraordinaire Bill Overstreet who has entertaining and verifiable stories of his amazing wartime exploits, like chasing a German Messerschmitt ME 109G under the Eiffel Tower, hot on its tail in his P-51, braving intensive enemy flak and managing to shoot the Messerschmitt sufficiently to cause it to crash; a flight where his eyes had swollen shut and he had to be guided by radio from Berlin to his base in the UK. There was a lot more, and we’ll probably do a full piece on his amazing exploits, but meeting him was truly a high point of this trip and we needed to share it.
On the other side of verifiable, we got to sit down with controversial “Luftwaffe “Ace”” Gottfried Dulias, who was nonetheless an interesting character, regardless of the veracity of his claims.
Another Luftwaffe Alum, Hans Meyer was available to talk and we sat down with the man. He was born in 1927, and he spent most of his early years growing up in Brandenburg, Germany. At fourteen he joined a youth glider club where he learned to fly and repair the DFS SG 38 Schulgleiter (School Glider). By the time he was sixteen, he had earned a Class C rating in gliding. When he turned seventeen he joined the Luftwaffe to avoid being drafted into the army, and by 1944 many could foresee the outcome of the war. At the time, Germany was especially short of pilots had initiated a program to fast-track glider pilots to make them into fighter pilots. In a very short time, Hans had completed his training in Werneuchen on the Messerschmitt ME-109 and was sent off to aerial combat with the Jagdgeschwader 54 (Fighter Squadron 54) “the green hearts” on the Eastern Front. His unit was tasked with slowing the inexorable Russian advance and before he had turned 18, Hans was credited with five confirmed Soviet “kills.” He was shot down and captured, but managed to escape and made it back to his unit. On his final combat flight he was severely wounded in the leg and was in the hospital for several weeks when the German army swept in to the facility and drafted anyone well enough to pull a trigger in a last ditch effort to slow the advancing Russians and Hans spent the remaining months of the war as an infantryman.
While we were admittedly disappointed by the lack of a proper air show at the air show, upon reflection we’ve come to realize that what we ended up getting was perhaps more memorable, particularly given how many sunny days we’ve already spent going from plane to plane and seeing aerial performance after aerial performance. We do hope we have better weather for our next show of course, but sometimes clouds do indeed have silver linings.