32nd Annual WWII Weekend

United Fuel Cells

Text and photos by Nick Chismar

For four days in June, the skies over Reading, Pennsylvania once again came alive as the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum held its 32nd Annual WWII Weekend. Taking place over June 2nd, 3rd, and 4th this year, WWII Weekend is more than an airshow. First-time visitors are often amazed by the vastness of it all as olive drab tents and warbirds pack the area while veterans take the stage to tell their stories to captivated crowds. The event is truly a sight to behold. Despite some pesky storms on Friday and Saturday, WWII Weekend once again kicked off the summer with a bang while adding a new experience for aviation photographers who come to the show.

As the gates open and visitors begin to make their way around the show, the reenactors are already preparing for a full day ahead. Jeeps, motorcycles, and even tanks line up for the opening parade while MPs and volunteers keep the crowds at a safe distance. In another area of the event, the hill surrounding the French village begins to fill up with spectators as GIs are seen preparing to assault the village below. Suddenly the sound of gunfire erupts as fierce fighting takes over the once-peaceful village. GIs and German soldiers are seen fighting in close combat before the GIs ultimately declare victory.

After several minutes of fighting an “all clear” is given as the captured German troops are gathered to be questioned. Once the ropes are dropped and spectators flood back in, interrogations begin with GIs sifting through German paperwork. Squad leaders can be seen debriefing and planning their defense of the town while others receive their mail for the day. At the same time, the reenactors begin to mingle with the crowds, explaining the battle and offering amazing lessons about the history of the units they portray.

Up on the flight line, the airshow is just beginning. Liaison aircraft parade in front of the packed crowds with the primary trainers on the ground below, preparing for their turn in the spotlight. Just as the show begins in the air, not far away behind the crowd, members of the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team are double and triple checking each other as they prepare to board the C-47 “Placid Lassie” to jump above the runway. This demonstration has always been a crowd favorite and made a return this year after a few years of hiatus. The jump went off without a hitch, giving the crowd a taste of what the jump over Normandy would have looked like.

Suddenly a deafening whine could be heard as the thunderous sound of radial engines shot across the crowd. Now it was the Jersey Jerks’ turn to awe the crowd in their SNJs and T-6 Texans. Several formation passes were made with all six aircraft flying with immense levels of precision.  Following the performance, five of the six aircraft come in for a landing, leaving just one remaining in the air. As if from out of nowhere, Kevin Russo sped into view in his yellow and white SNJ. As a longtime performer and crowd favorite, Kevin brought his SNJ through a series of loops, smoke on, and crowds locked in. While many are impressed with his eight-point roll, it just wasn’t enough for Kevin as he came back around to perform an impressively sharp 16-point roll. After a series of photo passes Kevin brought his SNJ back down with crowds watching as he rolled by.

Now it was Stan Musick’s turn as he brought CAF Airbase Georgia’s FG-1D Corsair to life. Performing a series of rolls and loops, show announcer “Fast Eddie” brought Stan up on the loudspeaker. From the ground, the Corsair was blazing through the sky with amazing speed as Stan walked the crowd through each maneuver like there was nothing to it. “I think we’ll come in for a nice and easy photo pass,” Stan said, as the Corsair screamed by from show left before turning back to slow down for a carrier approach. Stan was soon joined by Airbase Georgia’s SBD Dauntless and the Military Aviation Museum’s FM-2 Wildcat. Together, they circle the field as Marine reenactors dazzled crowds with the flamethrower demonstration before recreating the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

Not to be outdone by the Corsair, Jerry Wells took to the sky in his Bucker Jungmeister. With a spectacular display of loops and knife edge passes Jerry dazzled the crowd before landing and doing a “burnout,” looping his aircraft on the taxiway with smoke on just in front of the show center. Not long after, the bombers and transports took off for their routine. Led by the B-25 “Panchito” from the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation, the C-47s “Hairless Joe” of the Yankee Air Museum and “Placid Lassie” of the Tunison Foundation took to the sky followed by a Beechcraft Model 18 for a series of passes for the crowd before the B-29 “Fifi” joined them. Making several passes over the crowd, the B-29’s incredible size and power was awe-inspiring. With only two B-29s flying in the world, it truly is a treat to see “Fifi” each year, especially for those who may have never been to the show or seen a warbird of that size.

Finishing out the air show portion were the fighters. The CAF’s Corsair once again took the skies, but this time it was joined by Airbase Georgia’s P-51 and P-63, as well as, the FM-2 and the P-51 “Kwitcherbitchen.” The fighters made a series of photo passes with the P-63 and P-51 flying formation together making for a rather impressive duo. With “Kwitcherbitchen” now back on the ground, the other four flew over show center in a missing man demonstration to end the show.

While this would mark the end of Sunday afternoon, Friday and Saturday continue well into the night. With the air show over, reenactors change into their Sunday best or dress uniforms and make their way to the main hangar. Visitors once again make their way in, this time dressed for an evening on the dance floor. At 7:00 PM the dance begins as the Big Band “Swing Fever” plays through some of the most popular tunes from the era. The dance is always a crowd favorite, drawing visitors in as reenactors and volunteers get to relax and enjoy the night. While many were out at the dance on Saturday night, a group of photographers gathered for the 3rd Annual Night Photo Shoot. This year’s shoot featured three incredible aircraft, Airbase Georgia’s P-63, a Boeing Stearman, and a replica Aichi D3A Val, which was recently donated to the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum by Ken Laid.

Over the last 32 years, spectators and photographers have been enjoying the show from within the event itself. As the gates open, photographers scramble for their spots along the fence, setting up to capture some incredible images. Mid-way through the day, however, the sun is directly in your eye and unfortunately behind the aircraft. Finding a better place to shoot from has been the goal of Media Coordinator David Brown for the past several years with everything coming together for 2023. Thanks to David and his wife Christina, along with Jason Smith, Jeff Hunt, and Jim Duncan, this year marked the beginning of the new WWII Weekend Photo Pit.

Located on the opposite side of the show, the new pit sits above runway 13 inside the airport fence giving photographers an unobstructed view of the performances. Being closer to the display line, the pit offers a unique experience free from the noise of the crowd. All you hear is the thunder of the engines and the sound of your own shutter. This year, nearly 40 photographers were able to experience the new location over the three days of the show. This also included a free bagged lunch along with plenty of water and shade, especially as the temperature neared 100 degrees on Friday. The photo pit itself was a great success, even if a few canopies fell victim to fierce winds from pesky storms. It truly offers a new way to enjoy the air show. Information regarding the 2024 Photo Pit is expected to come out at the end of this year. Anyone who is interested, whether you are a professional photographer or avid enthusiast, should keep an eye out as this is an amazing way to experience the show.

Throughout each of the three day event, visitors, volunteers, and reenactors alike have the chance to experience history. Not just from the ground, but also from the sky. Operators like the Yankee Air Museum, Commemorative Air Force, Delaware Aviation Museum, and Mid-Atlantic all offer rides on their own incredible aircraft. This year, I was able to experience two of them, Yankee Air Museum’s C-47 “Hairless Joe” and Delaware Aviation Museum’s B-25 “Panchito.”

It is one thing to watch from the ground but to feel the tail lift in the C-47 on take-off, and be able to experience the ability to walk throughout the aircraft in flight is a whole other experience. The Yankee Air Museum’s crew could not have been better. You could see their passion for the aircraft, its history, and the experience it brings. Looking around at the others with me as they peered out the windows or watched the pilots fly, you could see the excitement on their faces. These were moments they will never forget, cruising over Reading, PA like you were in a classic Cadillac.

If the C-47 was a Cadillac, the B-25 is a Hot Rod. From a waist gunner seat, one can look out across the wings as you taxi past the show. The engines are even more deafening inside, calling for earmuffs once airborne. Once the flight was at altitude and the signal is given to unbuckle, the moment really sinks in. Walking past the open escape hatch and crawling to the tail gunner position might be a chore for some, but the view is something special. In the tail, you can turn around and see forward toward the cockpit, looking at both engines before turning back. Much nimbler, the B-25 feels worlds different than the C-47, shooting into the sky rather than “arriving” as it seems in the C-47. Both make for an unforgettable experience, and both can be found at the event, though it is suggested that these flight experiences be booked well in advance as they often fill up quite quickly.

In the end, the 32nd Annual WWII Weekend was another success. While some may come for the airshow, almost all stay for the whole event. From the aircraft that grace the skies, to the over 1,500 reenactors whose passion for history is infectious, to the Veterans whose stories speak volumes more in person than on a page, it is truly a one of a kind experience.

Special thanks to David and Christina Brown for their kindness and help, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum for making this all possible.


1 Comment

  1. Former military and commercial aircraft mechanic and War Bird aficionado I’ve put the website in my Contacts and hope to hear back as next year’s dates are announced. As a sponsor of one of two remaining airworthy B-24 bombers, my father-in-law flew in, the Collings Foundation “Witchcraft” was a treasure to behold. Sad they’ve been grounded so long. Looking forward to a future show!

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