There is a very com­plex set of fac­tors that ex­plains our at­trac­tion to war­birds, es­pe­cially those of World War II. The ap­peal of their his­tory and the hero­ics of those who took them into com­bat is easy to un­der­stand. What is much harder to un­der­stand is the way that some ma­chines—Spit­fire to Mus­tang to Fly­ing Fortress and be­yond— draw such strong re­sponses from those en­tirely too young to un­der­stand the his­tory. Or what about those liv­ing in third­world coun­tries that ex­ist far out­side of the Al­lied/Axis world? To­day, many in those coun­tries are strug­gling to sur­vive, yet im­ages of a Mus­tang, for in­stance, draw their at­ten­tion. Why?

I’d love to be able to an­swer that, but I doubt that an an­swer is even pos­si­ble. What brought this sub­ject to mind was prep­ping the ar­ti­cle “So You Wanna Fly a Warbird” for this is­sue.

All of us in the Flight Jour­nal fam­ily spend an in­or­di­nate amount of time around war­birds—some­times as part of the crowd drawn to them at events, some­times from the cock­pit. Un­less it is pointed out to us, how­ever, we of­ten miss how young many of those around us are—and how ex­cited they are. It’s heart­en­ing and more than a lit­tle amaz­ing.

What is even more amaz­ing is the num­ber of war­birds scat­tered through­out the coun­try that have be­come avail­able to the gen­eral pub­lic for rides or “flight in­struc­tion.” From a lo­cal op­er­a­tor’s Stear­man to Mus­tangs to the top of the lad­der with the CAF’s B-29 FIFI, en­thu­si­asts can ac­tu­ally go for a flight. Once off the ground, they’ll taste the air­borne sounds, the smells, and the emo­tions that ex­ist nowhere else in the world. Look­ing at a warbird is one thing, but sit­ting where young men made his­tory so long ago and let­ting the sur­round­ings vi­brate their way into your thoughts is en­tirely dif­fer­ent. Take our word for it: Once you’ve ac­tu­ally gone aloft in a warbird, ev­ery sin­gle warbird image you see or WW II word you read from that point on will af­fect you dif­fer­ently.

A lot of our WW II he­roes didn’t make it home. One of those was Lt. Col. Robert West­brook. Known as “Westy,” his story is told by Steve Blake. With 20 kills in the Pa­cific Theater un­der his belt, in both P-40s and P-38s, his con­tri­bu­tion to win­ning the war may not have been his skill in com­bat but his skill as a leader.

West­brook was taken down by a Ja­pa­nese gun­boat cam­ou­flaged as a freighter, the same tar­gets that the 345th Bomber Group, the Air Apaches, and their B-25 gun­ships spe­cial­ized in pum­mel­ing. In “Air Apaches,” Jim Busha fills us in on the suc­cess and fail­ures of the low-level at­tacks that typ­i­fied their ev­ery mis­sion. It was a dan­ger­ous busi­ness but some­thing in which the 345th ex­celled.

When it comes to fight­ers, the Spit­fire is al­most al­ways sin­gled out, along with the Mus­tang, as be­ing the best of the breed. Its abil­ity to be adapted to many other roles tested its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, how­ever, and in one, it was a dread­ful fail­ure. In “Spit­fire,” Don­ald Ni­jboer de­liv­ers the sad news that as good as the Spit­fire was as a fighter, that’s ex­actly how bad it was as a dive-bomber. The Royal Air Force tried and tried but fi­nally gave up. It’s an in­ter­est­ing but sel­dom-told story.

So have a good time, and while read­ing, go to the Warbird Ex­pe­ri­ence guide, pick your air­craft and lo­ca­tion, and make your reser­va­tion for a flight. Make the sum­mer of 2018 your warbird-ex­pe­ri­ence sum­mer. You’ll never re­gret it.

Stal­lion 51 gives flight in­struc­tion to pi­lots and non­pilots alike in its dual-con­trol Mus­tangs: Crazy Horse 1 and 2. The com­pany is based in Kis­sim­mee, Florida. (Photo by Alas­tar Robert­son)

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