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Arsenal of Democracy

Warbirds filled the skies over Washington, D.C., on May 8, in an aerial display that’s unlikely to ever be repeated. The Arsenal of Democracy World War II Victory Capitol Flyover commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, and featured 56 airplanes in 15 historically sequenced groups overflying thousands of spectators, veterans and dignitaries assembled on the Mall. The event involved months of planning and participation by vintage aircraft owners and organizations, including the Commemorative Air Force, Texas Flying Legends, Military Aviation Museum and Fagen Fighters WWII Museum.

Jerry Yagen’s Fighter Factory, a division of his Virginia Beach–based Military Aviation Museum, contributed five warplanes to the flyover: a PBY-5A Catalina, FM-2 Wildcat, FG-1D Corsair, P-40E Kittyhawk and TBM-3E Avenger. The Avenger provided the flyover’s only unexpected drama when it developed a hydraulic leak just as it made the turn past the Lincoln Memorial. As vaporized hydraulic fluid—initially mistaken for smoke—filled the cockpit, pilot Josh Wilson calmly declared an emergency and within a minute landed at Reagan National Airport (search YouTube for “TBM Avenger” to see the dramatic cockpit footage). Wilson later noted that the incident, while relatively minor, was a somber reminder of the dangers combat airmen faced, and paid tribute “to all those who didn’t have a runway conveniently aligned. To those who were hundreds of miles away from the nearest carrier, in enemy waters. To those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We remember.”

The CAF’s B-29 Fifi, the only Superfortress currently flying, received a huge cheer as it flew solo over the assembled crowd, representing the final Allied air campaign against Japan. Of course during the war two B-29s carried the most destructive weapons in the arsenal of democracy, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see “Near Disaster Over Nagasaki”) 70 years ago. Earlier in the flyover, five P-51 Mustangs roared over the Mall, preceded by three more escorting a B-24, a reminder of the key role North American’s iconic fighter (see “In the Mustang’s Wake”) played in defeating the Axis powers. Among the Mustang’s many proponents, R.A. “Bob” Hoover (see “The Pilots’ Pilot”) stands out for the many years he flew his P-51D Ole Yeller at the Reno Air Races and airshows across the country.

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