Warbird aerial parades to provide a boost for coronavirus-diminished 75th end-of-WWII event
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 25, 2020
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HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — A cavalcade of World War II flying history will land at Wheeler Army Airfield from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday in preparation for three aerial parade flyovers commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, officials said.
The list includes a B-25 bomber, two PBY Catalina flying boats, an SNJ/AT-6 Texan, four AT-6 Texans, an FM2 Wildcat, a F8F Bearcat, a Stearman biplane, a TBM Avenger, a P-51 Mustang and a T-28 Trojan.
All were brought in by the Navy from San Diego on the amphibious assault ship USS Essex.
Additionally, another locally based P-51 Mustang, another Stearman and a Globe Swift may participate, officials said.
F-22 Raptor fighters and C-17 cargo and KC-135 tankers from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam round out the mix.
It’s expected to be a bit of aerial salvation for a once-impressive 75th lineup that’s been whittled away by COVID-19 concerns.
The Sept. 2 anniversary of Japan’s formal surrender on the battleship Missouri is the main event at 8:30 a.m., with attendance expected by about 14 World War II veterans who live in Hawaii; Defense Secretary Mark Esper; Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; and Gov. David Ige.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is no longer one of the attendees.
One of the “Legacy of Peace” aerial parades will overfly the Missouri between 8:15 and 8:45 a.m. with a “missing man” formation of F-22 Raptors at the conclusion of the event, said Elissa Lines, executive director of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
The ceremony will be live-streamed, but Oahu residents will be able to see actual warbirds and hear the distinctive rumble of their engines in the group flyovers.
Lines said it’s a rare event. “This is pretty incredible, and of course the Missouri is here. We’re back to that incredible statement that ‘this place matters.’ The history took place here. The ship is here, the Arizona is here, the war began here.”
As a result, “it’s significant that these aircraft are going to be part of our tribute to the veterans, and to the celebration of the end of World War II,” Lines said.
While the aerial display now is one of peace, on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay it was a show of force when more than 800 bombers and other aircraft overflew the surrender ceremony.
As part of an educational aspect to the warbird participation from around the country, the 75th World War II Commemoration Committee designed trading cards featuring the 14 aircraft that came over on the Essex as well as other famous warbirds from World War II.
The cards will be made available on the committee’s website.
The “Lady Alice,” a P-51 Mustang, is making a return to Hawaii from Chino, Calif. Manufactured in 1945, the Mustang flew out of Honolulu in the 1970s before being moved to the mainland.
Pilot Robert Pinksten, 24, will be flying a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber owned by Bruce Graham. Pinksten said the plane “is huge. It’s way bigger than you think.”
The 75th commemoration website notes a first flyover on Saturday “around Oahu” and a Sunday flight “connecting the bases of WWII.” Both are scheduled from 1 to 2 p.m.
Lines said the plan is to publish the routes on the 75th website.
“I’m trying to convert the routes from an aviation navigational chart to Google Earth so that people can identify where the aircraft will be traveling,” she said.
Wheeler, now a helicopter base and the staging area for the flyovers, has its own important history: On Dec. 7, 1941, more than 35 men were killed there by attacking Japanese planes. An open house for the public to see the warbirds was canceled due to coronavirus.
Coy Pfaff brought a PBY-5A Catalina flying boat from Oregon for the 75th event — not an easy task for any of the mainland aircraft.
“It took us two weeks quarantine in San Diego and then about a week onboard the Essex and the time for the unload of the aircraft — so probably around 25 days,” he said.
Pfaff has said repeatedly he’s doing it for the World War II veterans.
“We need to remind all of these people out here what these guys did, so anything we can do for that (and) to see these airplanes in the air again is great,” he said.
In an Aug. 12, 2020 photo, a Consolidated PBY Catalina arrives in Pearl Harbor aboard USS Essex for the commemoration of the end of World War II.
JESSICA O. BLACKWELL/U.S. NAVY