I love old things. Not because they look cool, or because it’s “in” right now to do vintage, but I have genuine love for history. My favorite era? 1940s. Hands down.
I got into the World War II era when I was 12 when I first watched HBO’s miniseries “Band of Brothers,” and my love (borderline obsession?) grew from there.
I’ve attended the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s (MAAM) World War II weekend five out of the last seven years. Every year, it feels like I’m actually stepping into my favorite generation.
More than 1,700 military and civilian reenactors come prepared in era attire and gear. More than 200 era vehicles from motorbikes to drivable tanks are on display and part of the reenactment. And then of course, my bread and butter, the aircraft.
A B-17 Bomber, The Porsche of vintage aircraft: the P-51 Mustang and the world’s only operational B-29 bomber (named Fifi) all take to the sky. The first time I went to the air show, I had never seen a vintage aircraft, and I didn’t have much of an opinion about them. Now, I can honestly say, I think they are majestic, awe-inspiring machines.
My Dad told me he had a secret appointment set up with someone we were going to meet at the Air Show this year. A very important lady. I was as annoying as I could possibly be to coax him into telling me who it was, but he didn’t budge.
At the show, as we watched The Yankee Air Museum’s B-17G Bomber, The Yankee Lady take off for her 10 a.m. flight, he said, “Oh yeah, by the way, that’s the lady we have an appointment with. We’re on the noon flight.”
For the next two hours, I just giggled repeatedly. I’ve watched “The Memphis Belle.” I’ve read the history books. This aircraft was called The Flying Fortress. It dropped more bombs than any other aircraft in World War II.
To add to my excitement, as planes were taking off and landing, I met a veteran named Wally Walzak. I found out he survived 50 missions on a B-17 flying out of Foggia, Italy. After hearing his thoroughly entertaining tales and stories, I told him I was going to take my first flight in two hours. In the meantime, his family could have our chairs and watch the air show.
The flight itself was only about 40 minutes. Surprisingly, the take-off and landing was more comfortable than any commercial flight I’ve ever been on. The in-flight transit was a wee bit wobbly, but I wasn’t complaining.
The experienced crew at the Yankee Air Museum kept everyone safe and they encouraged us to explore the aircraft and take a look around.
In the body of the plane, we took a look out of the windows the Waist Gunners and Ball Turret gunners sat to defend the bomber. In the middle part of the cab, the radio room housed a few bodies to communicate with ground and other air units.
Separating the radio room from the nose of the plane was the bomb bay. Literally, a 4-inch wide catwalk with nothing but three, thick railing ropes was the only way to get from the radio room to the front of the plane. Below the catwalk would have been thousands of pounds of bombs to be dropped on strategic war targets.
In the nose of the cab, we could say hello to the people actually flying the plane and then craw below to see what the nose gunner would have saw (which for us was an 180 degree, glass encased view of the beautiful Reading countryside.)
It gets me emotional just thinking about the flight mostly because it was such a humbling experience. In 1943, guys my age and younger were doing this under much more adverse conditions on a daily basis, guys like Wally. They volunteered to protect their county they loved. And aircraft had very unpromising numbers: one out of five guys who stepped foot on a B-17 were killed or wounded in action. Many of the guys who were on this plane I flew on didn’t come back.
The Yankee Lady is one of just 11 operational B-17’s in the United States. And I flew on it.
Don’t know much about World War II? Well, I was a big noob at my first Air Show. The reenactors and MAAM staff are knowledgeable and helpful and share information freely. Plus, you never know who you may meet (i.e. Wally Wolzak). These veterans love to see younger people take an interest in their generation.
But I encourage anybody who’s never been to go. After all, especially following Memorial Day, the Air Show gives you such an appreciation for what these men and women sacrificed to keep us safe.
Check out my pictures of the show here!