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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Wischful Thinking
The Fina-CAF Airshow

by Jay Wischkaemper

This was the year. Even though I only live a hundred miles from Midland and the Commemorative Air Force Airsho, scheduling conflicts had kept me from attending the last several years. But this year, when I saw on flyers advertising the show that the Canadian Snowbirds would be performing, I was determined to go.

If you’re a warbird fanatic, Airsho is the place to be. Every year, over 100 examples of planes and over 100,000 people flock to Midland, Texas to celebrate the allied victory in W.W.II, and to commemorate the sacrifices of those who died. It’s also an occasion to honor those who are still here to be honored. To see those kids of long ago who are now old men. To hear their stories. Kids who in some cases had barely learned to drive when they learned to fly the P-51s and P-40s and Corsairs and Hellcats. There were the boys from the cities and the farms who became the bomber crews who formed a bond of friendship and camaraderie as they came together to deliver an explosive message to the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire. At the time, they weren’t heroes. They were scared young men who felt a duty to defend their country. They were people who knew that every time they came back from a mission, there would be friends of theirs who didn’t. They were kids who wondered every day they woke up if it would be their last. They didn’t enjoy what they had to do, but they did it, and it is to honor their commitment and sacrifice that Airsho is held.

Airsho is about the airplanes, and there are a lot of them. Many aren’t the exotic fighters and bombers that are so glamorous. There are a lot of trainers, but that’s okay. There are the planes that are painted to be Zeroes that are really Harvards. That’s fine too. After all, this is a show, and what a show it is. The P-51s are there. The Spitfire is there. The Wildcat is there. The Hellcat is there. And so far, this is the only place you will see a flying B-29, and one of the few times you’ll see a B-24, even though it’s really an LB30. There’s always at least one beautiful B-17. There were a couple of DC-3s, or C-47s if you’re a purist. Two C-46s graced the ramp. A B-25 and an A-26. Even the enemy was represented with a Junkers tri-plane.

The modern stuff was there too. The Navy strutted its stuff with a Tomcat demo, and in a particularly poignant moment, a CAF Hellcat joined in formation for what was termed a “Legacy Flight.” The Air Force turned copious amounts of jet fuel into noise with a B-1 demo. Celebrities and dignitaries were there as always.

As I wandered the flight line, taking in all that was there, it occurred to me that for all the airplanes and important people that were there, what really makes Airsho the success it is are not the things that seem so important, but just like those young men who in the 1940s put their lives on the line for this country, it’s the common people. It’s the guy with his bag full of cameras. It’s the kid hobbling around on crutches. It may hurt, but he wouldn’t be anywhere else. It’s the women pushing strollers. It’s the kids in those strollers who have no idea what all of this is about. They can’t even comprehend war, let alone one that happened almost 60 years ago. It’s the old people who still remember, and the young people who need to.

So the old planes and the mostly old men who still fly them fire up and taxi out. The choreography of the show begins. It’s 1941 again, and the Hellcat shoots down the Zero. The F-14 shows how it’s done today. The Snowbirds do their masterful ballet. Then it’s 1945, and the B-29 drops the A-bomb again, or at least he intends to. Not this year because of mechanical trouble. A gaggle of trainers fills the air. The cargo planes lumber by. The fighters do victory rolls. And the 80-year-old men who were really there stand on the ground looking up at the sky, remembering when it wasn’t just a show. Remembering when the bullets and the bombs were real. Occasionally a tear runs down their cheek. Tears they couldn’t cry 60 years ago. Tears they’ve earned the right to cry today.

How long can they keep flying? Who knows? But even when the flying stops, I hope the memories of and respect for what they did never does. 

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure.

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