Warbirds, weather headline 50th CAF Airsho

Commemorative Air Force gathers in Midland, Texas

October 16, 2013

The weather was perfect on Oct. 12 for the first day of the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) fiftieth annual Airsho at its Midland, Texas, headquarters. For the second day, however, it was not cooperative; Oct. 13, dawned with a low overcast that began to lift at midday, just in time for torrential rains to move into the area.

The organization began its annual Airsho in 1963 at what it dubbed Rebel Field in Harlingen, Texas—today operating as Valley International Airport—with only nine airplanes in attendance. Now the CAF has a fleet of 159 warbird aircraft, many of which flew over Midland International Airport during the event.

As you might expect, the CAF's fleet of former military aircraft dominated the airshow, and included the CAF's choreographed "Tora, Tora, Tora" re-creation of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II. Rare aircraft operated by the organization—including Fifi, the only flying B-29 Superfortress, and Diamond Lil, one of only two airworthy B-24 Liberators—took part in the show, as well as two B-17 Flying Fortresses, several B-25 Mitchells, and a variety of fighters, trainers, transports, and other aircraft. Two of only three original Japanese A6M Zeros still flying took to the skies; one of them was part of a contingent from the Texas Flying Legends Museum in Houston.

Although current military displays were absent from the airshow, courtesy of the federal government sequestration, several civilian acts were featured, including Jan Collmer in his Extra 300L; Andrew Wright flying a Giles G-202; the father-and-son team of Greg and Joe Shetterly, who performed together and separately; and the FLS Microjet, billed as the world's smallest jet airplane.

Two distinguished groups of veterans convened in Midland during the weekend of the CAF airshow. Pilots who flew the QU-22, a heavily modified Beechcraft Bonanza, in Vietnam got together for the first time in more than 40 years. Primarily members of the 554th Reconnaissance Squadron, their mission consisted of orbiting above the Ho Chi Minh Trail between 20,000 and 25,000 feet; their aircraft served as radio relays for acoustic and vibration sensors dropped along the trail to detect movement. A restored QU-22B was on hand at Midland and flew in the airshow.

Members of the 456th Bomb Group, which operated and maintained B-24 Liberators in the European theater during World War II, held their reunion at the same hotel. They held their first reunion in 1971, and have gone back to Italy three times since then. However, next year will be the group's final reunion; now, age is taking its toll on these combat survivors. Garfield Klinger, 91, of Puyallup, Wash., isn't slowing down; he was a B-24 pilot and with his wife and other family members in tow, climbed back into the left seat of a Liberator for the first time in decades. He graduated from the aviation cadet program in January 1944, then flew 35 missions during his nine months in combat. Saturday afternoon, two sons who accompanied him to Texas bought rides for Klinger, his wife, and themselves aboard the historic aircraft.

During the CAF's annual meeting, held the Friday afternoon before the airshow, members voted whether the organization would move its headquarters from Midland to Houston, San Antonio, or the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Results of the voting are expected to be announced in November.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins | Technical Editor, AOPA

Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.