WWII Weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum – Air Show Report

A crowd of re-enactors poses in front of Boeing B-29 Superfortress 'Doc', one of five four-engined Boeings at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's annual WWII Weekend Air Show. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)
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By A. Kevin Grantham

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM) offered its annual graduate course in 1940s-era culture at Spaatz Field (Reading Regional Airport) in Reading, Pennsylvania, over the weekend of 1-3 June, 2018. The lessons included in the curriculum were studies in the fields of military vehicles and weapons, period clothing, a retrospective on war-time entertainment, and, most importantly, vintage airplanes. These are not your typical classroom offerings, but rather more like a first-person field experience which cleverly carries the name World War II Weekend.

WWII re-enactors included a representative mimicking the visage of British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, sitting in the jeep. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The active ramp, with a number of warbirds on it, including the American Airpower Museum’s P-40M and Greg Shelton’s FM-2 Wildcat. B-17G Yankee Lady is coming in to land behind them. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

C-97 Unloading Demo. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The theme for this year’s show appeared to be ‘Boeing, Boeing, Boeing’, because the event featured both of the airworthy B-29 Superfortresses along with the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundations‘ (BAHF) C-97G Stratofreighter Angel of Deliverance. The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Boeing B-29, FiFi, did the show flying while Doc’s Friends‘ B-29, Doc and the BAHF’s C-97 stayed on the ground, giving the public a unique opportunity to view the internal workings of these fascinating machines. The Yankee Air Museum’s B-17G Flying Fortress Yankee Lady and the late David Tallichet’s B-17G The Movie Memphis Belle (operated by the National Warplane Museum) were also on hand as well. Having five rare Boeing heavies on one airfield paid dividends for the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum as large numbers of people lined up at the entrance gates each morning, an hour or more before the official airshow start time.

Tom Duffy’s B-25J Takeoff Time, the Delaware Aviation Museum’s B-25J Panchito, Yankee Air Museum’s B-25D Yankee Warrior, and of course, the MAAM’s own B-25J Briefing Time represented the medium bomber force. It is amusing to note that there is a bit of a friendly rivalry going on between the crews who polish their Mitchells and the ones who do not. Your author will let you figure out which is which.

Unsettling weather over much of the United States’ Mid-Atlantic region kept some of the aircraft, like the CAF Dixie Wing’s beautiful Bell P-63A, from making it to Reading. Unfortunately, on Saturday, Air Boss Greg Witmer had to cut the display short for safety reasons due to the troubling clouds and rain coming in from the east, but this did not spoil the overall atmosphere of the event.

Having a good sampling of vintage bombers, fighters, and trainers is an important ingredient in putting on a good air show, but it is truly the people who come to Reading to support this event that makes the WWII Weekend special. Each year more than 1,500 volunteers and re-enactors pay their way to Reading and help transform Spaatz Field into a 1940s cultural event. Many of these individuals dress in period clothing and show off their vintage vehicles and military hardware. Spectators also join in the act by arriving in 1940’s era costumes. So many, in fact, that it is sometimes difficult to tell performers from the paying public. One of the most popular ground events during the show is when the Parris Island Historical and Museum Society’s Living History Detachment recreates a flamethrower demonstration. This year the group had two flamethrowers whose operators simultaneously directed the deadly streams of fire towards an ‘enemy’ position.

WWII USMC re-enactors wading through the tall grass as they take aim at the ‘enemy’. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The impressive flamethrower demonstration. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

Witnessing the flamethrower demonstration was special guest Richard ‘Dick’ Donald, who earlier in the day had recounted his recollections of the the Battle of Iwo Jima, and how it felt seeing the flag raising on Mount Suribachi from his ship, the USS Melvin R Nawman (DE-416). “Seeing that flag go up was a magnificent sight”, said Donald. “We were losing that battle and morale was very low. At a certain time that beautiful morning the flag went up. The ships started blowing their horns and the Marines took off their helmets and cheered. It was my fifth invasion and something happened to me. At 19, I realized why we kids were willing to die for that flag.”

Rickard ‘Dick’ Donald – Iwo Jima Survivor, and Sonarman aboard the DE-416, USS Melvin R. Nawman during the invasion of Iwo Jima holding a photograph of himself as a sailor during WWII. He described how it felt to see the flag raised atop Mount Surabachi, and how the fleet reacted to it. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The flying part of the show featured flights of Liaison aircraft, trainers, fighters, and bombers. Greg Shelton flew his FM-2 at very low altitude and did things with his Wildcat that defy description and are better understood by personally witnessing his performance. So, if you have a chance to see Shelton and his Wildcat—do not miss it! Kevin Russo provided additional aerobatic thrills in his SNJ, followed by Thom Richard flying the American Airpower Museum’s Curtiss P-40M Warhawk.

Greg Shelton flies his FM-2 Wildcat inverted. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

Greg Shelton brings his FM-2 Wildcat in for another high energy, low-altitude pass. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The American Airpower Museum’s P-40M taxis out for takeoff. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum is well known for their Northrop P-61 Black Widow restoration project. Museum members recovered this ultra-rare aircraft, P-61B-1-NO 42-39445, was recovered from its WWII crash site on Mount Cyclops in New Guinea during 1991 and she has been under restoration ever since.

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum has been making steady progress each year on their ultra-rare Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham). (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

Your author asked Museum president Russ Strine about the project, and he stated: “The P-61 project is moving forward. We are still doing a lot of wiring. This year, we obtained four new brakes, new diamond tread main tires, and the rare 33SC nose tire. All the cockpit instruments have been overhauled. Patterns for the four fuel tanks have been made. So, a great deal of progress has been made. We are still working on the right wing back in the shop, but we have paid for a lot of high ticket items. I do not have a projected completion date, but I did talk to Anderson Aeromotive and got a price on the engines which will be one of the last things we do. I don’t want to have engines sitting around while we are finishing the restoration.”

Another view of MAAM’s P-61 showing a mockup of the noseart that the museum is considering using once she is flying again. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

Strine also had some comments on future happenings at the museum: “We got a grant from the Eighth Air Force Association to help toward building an authentic 8th AF control tower. Ultimately, we would like to build the tower, a hangar, and a hardstand or two to make the complex complete and representative of what one would have found in England during WWII. We are selling Victory Bricks to build a Victory Road, or walkway, to the control tower complex. The bricks can be engraved with a veteran’s name, service affiliation, dates, and an aircraft profile if desired or as one might wish.” If you would like to help out with the P-61 or tower projects —please do contact the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, either by phone at +1 610 372-7333 or via their website www.maam.org.

A fully restored M4 Sherman tank with a crew of re-enactors. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

There is much more to MAAM’s annual WWII Weekend air show event than one can describe in a short article of course. Twenty-eight years ago, a small group of people came up with an idea to hold an event to keep the memory of World War II alive—not to glorify the conflict, but to offer a unique window into the past. Someone once said, “History is simply a record of Man’s past—or lack of it.” If you want a great way to learn about World War II history, and have fun while doing it, then come to Reading, Pennsylvania next year between May 31st and June 2nd to help the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum celebrate the Twenty-Ninth Anniversary of their World War II Weekend.

Some of the many volunteers at the WWII Weekend. Most of these young people are members of the Civil Air Patrol. (photo by A.Kevin Grantham)

The Author would like to thank Russ Strine, Clarence Carvell, Jack Bertolet, and Greg Witmer for making this article possible.

A bonus gallery of images from the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend this June.

WarbirdsNews wishes to offer our profound appreciation to A.Kevin Grantham for representing us at the show, and for his marvelous story and images.


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