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)