For many in the southwest, the word Breckenridge evokes memories of high flying warbird airshows and great camaraderie between pilots, operators and fans. After a 21 year hiatus, one of the most well attended and beloved warbird shows in the US has been resurrected. With a population of just 5,500, the sleepy west Texas town of Breckenridge, 100 miles west of Fort Worth, seems an unlikely location for a warbird bonanza, but you would be amazed by how many rare military aircraft have called it home. Back in the 70’s, Breckenridge resident and warbird pilot, Howard Pardue flew his Corsair and Bearcat at air shows all over the US. The story goes that Howard made a deal with air show organizers that if he participated in their events then they would make an effort to return the favor at ‘his’ show in Breckenridge. For almost 20 years, Pardue and his friend and warbird restoration guru, Nelson Ezell, made the annual Memorial Day weekend show a magnet for warbirds of all types. It wasn’t uncommon to see over a hundred aircraft on the ramp at the one day show.
Saturday was the arrival and practice day, with Sunday being the air show day. Saturday’s were often a free for all, fly-in type affair with a BBQ dinner and shindig in the evening. The Sunday display was an event like no other in the region; an all warbird show with many rare types flying tremendous routines. Everything in the air in an afternoon, what a hoot! From 1977 to 1996, Breckenridge was the place to be on Memorial Day weekend.
Fast forward 21 years and the Breckenridge air show has returned. The Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce, along with the whole Ezell Aviation Tribe hatched a plan to bring back the glory days of warbird air shows in Texas. Over 60 warbirds were on hand for the 2017 show. Counting the two under restoration in the Ezell Aviation shop, there were seven Corsairs on the field. Four Corsairs flew during the weekend. Five P-51 Mustangs, three B-25’s, two Seafurys, two P-40’s, a P-38, Wildcat, Tigercat, Helldiver, Spitfire, Avenger, two C-47’s, a few T-28’s, fifteen or twenty AT-6’s, plus an eight-ship Tora Tora Tora flight. Several other trainers, FAC birds and vintage civilian aircraft filled out the remainder of this diverse gathering of aeronautical gems.
Owners/operators present included the Commemorative Air Force, Texas Flying Legends, Mid American Air Museum, Lewis Air Legends, Cavanaugh Flight Museum, Oklahoma Flying Museum, Texas Air Museum, Comanche Fighters, David Martin and Carl Best. Many other individual owners rounded out the large gaggle of warbirds on the field.
Saturday turned out to be hot and sunny with temperatures nearing 100°F tempered by a stiff west Texas breeze. The crowd was fairly small on the practice day. But those who did attend received a rare treat when Connie Edwards brought his Grumman Albatross in for the day. The morning was filled with arrivals and rides from some of the operators present. The afternoon practice included performances by Tora Tora Tora and the Texas Flying Legends and several other acts. Dinner in the Ezell’s hangar and sunset photo flights by the four Corsairs completed a marvelous day.
Sunday brought cooler temperatures and a large crowd. With a breeze and some cloud cover, the environment was much more pleasant for an air show. Some rain drops coupled with a few local lightning strikes called a 30 minute delay in the afternoon show, but the crowd stuck with it and experienced a fantastic, up-close, small-town airshow with world-class warbirds. Trainers and FAC birds filled the skies at one point and Stewart Dawson flew a rousing display in the Lewis F7F Tigercat. The Tora Tora Tora team ‘bombed’ the airfield with the CAF ‘Blastards’ doing their best to rattle our teeth. David Martin in the P-51 “Happy Jack’s Go Buggy” and his CAP 232 aerobatics aircraft put on a thrilling aerial demonstration. Carl Best showed the crowd what the AT-6 could do in the aerobatic box as well. Texas Flying Legend’s show was a crowd pleaser, as always, with Warren Peitsch capping the day with a magical demonstration of the sights and sounds of the superlative Supermarine Spitfire.
The crowd was estimated at around 8,500 people, temporarily almost doubling the town’s population, which everyone saw as a great success. So much so that the Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce has announced that Memorial Day 2018 will see a return of the greatest warbird gathering in Texas!
Many thanks to Zane Adams for providing this article and beautiful photographs to WarbirdsNews. Click HERE to visit Zane’s photo gallery.