Seventy years ago, military members “sat in mournful silence” on Victory in Europe Day because they “knew the price of victory,” a speaker reminded thousands of spectators from countries around the world May 8 during a ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The ceremony preceded the much-anticipated Arsenal of Democracy: World War II Victory Capitol Flyover that included 56 World War II-era warbirds.
Thousands gathered on the National Mall, from the Lincoln to Washington memorials, to take part in the celebrations that included a band, dignitaries, 25 representatives of the Allied countries, and famed warbirds.
“In all our long history we have never seen a day greater than this,” one speaker quoted Winston Churchill as saying before a cheering crowd on Victory in Europe Day. Crowds cheered again 70 years later in remembrance of that day and all of the veterans who helped ensure that “barbarism had been defeated,” while the aircraft that helped make the victory possible flew overhead.
The aircraft flew in formations of two, three, and four along the Potomac River before banking left at the Lincoln Memorial and flying along the National Mall to the Capitol. The formations included L trainers, Boeing Stearman, T-6 Texans, P-40 Warhawks, B-25 Mitchell bombers, a PBY Catalina, Wildcats, SBD Dauntless, P-38 Lightning, a B-24 Liberator escorted by three P-51 Mustangs, B-17 Flying Fortresses, C-47 Skytrain, C-53 Skytrooper, TBM Avengers and a SB2C Helldiver, an A-26 Invader, Corsairs, and the B-29 Superfortress. Some of the aircraft carried veterans who served in World War II.
Throughout the overflight, airshow announcer Rob Reider described the role each aircraft played in the war; his pauses were timed for when the warbirds were directly overhead, often leaving only the sound of the radial engines rumbling and cameras clicking. Occasional formations, like the four P-51 Mustangs that banked sharply over the Lincoln Memorial drew rounds of applause as they flew by.
Some in the crowd noted the distinctive white-and-black D-Day “invasion stripes” on the C-53, a variant of the venerable Douglas C-47 that is designed to deliver paratroopers. Texas Flying Legends and Aircorps Aviation staff and volunteers had applied the stripes on May 7 at Culpeper Regional Airport in Virginia after practicing for the flight. The group used water-based paint with brushes, as it was done during World War II on the eve of the D-Day invasion—when rollers, mops, and other suitable tools also were pressed into service. The stripes were intended to make Allied aircraft easily identifiable during the battle.
One of the TBM Avengers in the “Marianas Turkey Shoot/Battle of Leyte Gulf” formation flight made an abrupt right turn from the formation abeam the World War II memorial. “I’m on fire,” he calmly announced on the flyover frequency, although observers on the National Mall saw no smoke streaming from the airplane (and were unaware unless listening to the frequency on a handheld radio). The event’s air boss immediately cleared him to land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and the aircraft later was reported to be safely on the ground. Later the Warbirds News Exchange group on Facebook reported that the Avenger pilot saw a mist of hydraulic fluid and opted to make a precautionary landing.
The overflight concluded with spectators standing for Taps followed by a missing man formation of the TBM Avenger, FG-1D Corsair, P-40 Warhawk, and P-51 Mustang. A single aircraft broke off from the formation perfectly timed between the World War II and Washington monuments.