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The American Airpower Museum’s Legends of Airpower Weekend

The American Airpower Museum’s Legends of Airpower Weekend

When the four-place Cessna 172 Skyhawks that routinely approach Farmingdale’s Republic Airport are reduced to shadows behind quad-engined heavy bombers, World War II has either been re-waged or the American Airpower Museum is holding one of its commemorative events to, ironically, do just that. The Legends of Airpower Program, occurring during the Memorial Day weekend in 2014, was one of them.

Located at that very airport-which is New York State’s largest general aviation field-it itself was launched after a $250,000 grant was received from then-Governor George E. Pataki, and is housed in historic Hangar 3, one of several structures built at a $500,000 cost during the Second World War, having served as the incubation point of some 9,000 indigenous Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters that were considered part of the country’s “arsenal of democracy.”

“The American Airpower Museum is a repository of artifacts that function as they did in years past,” said Jeffrey Clyman, its president and founder. “(It is) a living history museum… that communicates across generations and to generations who will never experience the emotional intensity, the unfathomable cruelty inflicted upon those who could not defend themselves… “

Dedicated during the airport’s annual Pearl Harbor Day Commemorative Service in 2000, it became a living tribute to Long Island’s veteran population by honoring the past with the present, proclaiming its mission as “where history flies.”

“… Using the extraordinary machines on display here,” said Clyman, “(we) defended those who were defenseless.”

Colonel Francis Gabreski, who had been Long Island’s highest-ranking World War II ace and had scored most of his victories in the very P-47 aircraft produced here, had served as the museum’s honorary commander.

Throngs of people, from infants to war veterans, occupied the ramp on the bright, almost-hot, summer-thresholding Memorial Day weekend, explaining the unbroken chain of parked cars lining either side of New Highway that accessed it.

By sight, sound, and sensation, military aviation, and the purpose the museum served, had been resurrected here.

A pair of L-39 Albartrosses, single-engine Soviet jet trainers that first flew in 1968 and featured 570-mph maximum speeds, emitted ear-piercing pitches as they awaited clearances on the museum-fronting taxiway, while a Dassault Falcon business jet, a glimpse into the airport’s true general aviation purpose, thundered down Runway 19, leaving the air permeated with the smell of jet fuel.

Passing over the threshold a moment later, a B-17 Flying Fortress, sporting its expansive wings and four radial engines, snatched concrete and decelerated.

Uniformed “servicemen and women,” emerging from the museum’s Ready Room after their mission briefing, filed out of the cavernous hangar to the blinding sun, as the olive-green C-47 Skytrain taxied toward the ramp and disgorged its previous “paratrooper” complement after its propellers had ceased turning.

As the military counterpart to the Douglas DC-3 airliner–the most widely produced aircraft of all time–it initially served in the Berlin Airlift and was later joined by the four-engine C-54 Skymaster, itself the military version of the Douglas DC-4. Having last served with the Israeli Air Force, the museum’s example, sporting side seats and parachute hookups, partook of troop deployment during D-Day operations over Normandy.

Symbolic of the era and area, the P-47 Thunderbolt itself, the largest and heaviest single-engine piston fighter with a 467-mph speed, posed on the ramp next to the very hangar that had hatched it.

Amid the voice of Ronald Reagan, who narrated the continually played documentary concerning the Tuskegee Airmen in the hangar itself, a short line of interested patrons had formed to speak with and purchase DVD’s made by one of the actual pilots who comprised that group.

Drowning out the waves of motion-anticipating music from the signature “Highway to the Danger Zone” song from the movie Top Gun, the first of the two Albatrosses made its 180-degree left swing on to the runway and, sporting its now extended trailing edge flaps, spooled up its engine. Inching forward like a stallion unleashed from its starting gate, it throttled itself into its acceleration run, arcing skyward at a considerable angle after only seconds and leaving a trail of desert-hot, carbon-laced exhaust-and momentary silence, carried by the fierce wind until an announcement broke it. “Last chance to claim the last seat on the Flying Fortress’s 3:00 departure,” it advised.

That four-engine bomber, dubbed the “Yankee Lady” and currently marshaled into its parking position after its 2:00 flight, joined its smaller, World War Ii stable mate, the North American B-25 Mitchell, “Miss Hap,” on the ramp, sporting only half the number of powerplants as its big brother.

As the fourth aircraft of the type to roll off the production line, the museum’s B-25, displaying serial number 40-2168 and the oldest surviving one, was synonymous with the Jimmy Doolittle-led Tokyo raid that saw 25 of them launched from the deck of the USS Hornet in April of 1942, demonstrating American potential in the Pacific theater of war.

Initially assigned to the 17th Bomb Group for reconnaissance duties on the West Coast, the medium mission bomber offered a 284-mph speed at 15,000 feet and a 1,500-mile range, but General Hap Arnold had a decidedly nonmilitary purpose for it when he inspected a similar B-25 dubbed the “Whisky Express” that was used as a personal transport and decided he wanted one of his own. Selecting what would later become the museum’s example, he had it retrofitted with an all-metal nose-located cargo compartment, sleeping quarters in the former bomb bay, additional passenger windows, and an aft section office.

He was hardly the only noted user of the type. After having passed from several civilian operators after the war, it was acquired by none other than eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, who flew it for his own personal purposes until it was removed from the Civil Registry and declared salvage in 1965. Yet it did not quite make the scrap heap.

Additional civil owners kept it in the sky until Jeffrey Clyman purchased it in 1989 and today it offers flight experiences to museum “passengers” on scheduled days.

How pilots prepared for transition to medium- and heavy-bombers such as these was indicated by another type in the museum’s collection, the bright red, two-place, open-cockpit Waco UPF-7 biplane that first flew in 1923, but was extensively employed in the World War II Civilian Pilot Training Program.

Although the B-25 was never designed for carrier-borne operations, two other naval aviation representing aircraft on the museum’s roster were-namely, the Grumman TBM Avenger and the Vought FG-1D, respectively designed for torpedo bombing and fighting roles.

Other conflict-associated aircraft, all powered by pure-jet engines, were also on the ramp that day, including the Republic F-84 Thunderjet, one of the earliest fighter and attack bombers still sporting piston-reminiscent straight wings and complete with range-extending tip tanks; the swept-wing Republic RF-84 Thunderflash, a 720-mph photo-reconnaissance type and the first equipped with cameras capable of horizon-to-horizon images; the sleek and swept Republic F-105 Thunderchief, capable of 1,390-mph speeds; and the General Dynamics F-111, a long-range, all-weather, supersonic, variable-geometry strike aircraft that was initially deployed in Vietnam.

All were on loan from the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Briefly restrained behind the fence until a Stuart tank rolled by, the latest uniform-clad “paratroopers” were commanded to “march” toward the awaiting C-47. Newly provisioned with them, the aircraft, making the short roll on to Runway 19’s threshold, unleashed the deep, throaty roar of its two Pratt and Whitney engines upon full throttle advance and surrendered to the sky with its outstretched wings, disappearing over the airport perimeter as it set course for the simulated beaches of Normandy on Long Island’s south shore.

World War II may not have been entirely replayed on the ground that Memorial Day, but it was re-enacted in the air during the museum’s Legends of Airpower commemoration with the very aircraft that had been instrumental in the country’s victory the first time, and the thousands who paid a visit to the museum that weekend unknowingly also paid tribute to it.

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