Menu

AirVenture awakened by warbird thunder

Sunrise sortie a living history tribute

Two Grumman 7F7 Tigercat escorts sprang alive with smoke billowing from their twin Pratt & Whitney radial engines as we launched in a twin-engine, twin-tail North American B–25 Mitchell bomber, its silhouette casting distinctive shadows over EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin during a sunrise sortie from Warbird Alley.

  • A Lewis Air Legends Grumman F7F–3P Tigercat begins to taxi with folded wings before joining a North American B-25J Mitchell and several North American P-51 Mustangs for an early morning warbird sunrise sortie at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin, July 27. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The North American B–25J Mitchell badged "Ukraine to Get ya" helped wake up thousands of campers at the world's largest airshow. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Mindy Lindheim and AOPA Aviation Events Manager Kim Trischman pose for a photo before their flight a North American B–25J Mitchell bomber. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The sunrise casts early morning shadows along Warbird Alley before Lewis Air Legends' Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats, North American P–51 Mustangs, and a North American B–25J Mitchell named "Ukraine to get ya" begin a sunrise sortie at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin on July 27. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Lake Winnebago provides the background for the fighter escort by a Grumman F7F–3P Tigercat and a pair of North American P–51 Mustangs during a sunrise sortie. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The window of a North American B–25J Mitchell frames the fighter escort of North American P–51 Mustangs and one of two Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats participating in the demonstration of vintage air power. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The tail gunner position in the rear of a North American B-25J Mitchell named “Ukraine to get ya” frames two Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats and four North American P–51 Mustangs courtesy of Lewis Air Legends and Breitling. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Two Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats and four North American P–51 Mustangs sponsored by Lewis Air Legends and Breitling fly a sunrise formation sortie at EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The sun illuminates the propeller of a twin-engine Grumman F7F–3P Tigercat flying with North American P-51 Mustangs. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Clouds frame a Grumman F7F–3P Tigercat and a pair of North American P–51 Mustangs during a formation flight courtesy of Lewis Air Legends and Breitling. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Clouds frame two Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats and four North American P–51 Mustangs. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Early morning sunlight filters through clouds as a pair of Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats fly in formation. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Clouds frame two Grumman F7F–3P Tigercats and four North American P–51 Mustangs during a full-throated sunrise sortie, a daily ritual that helps wake up EAA AirVenture campers. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A Grumman F7F–3P Tigercat operated by Lewis Air Legends is ramped with folded wings at Warbird Alley. Photo by David Tulis.
Lewis Air Legends' Averille Dawson smiles after crewing a sunrise sortie during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin, July 27. Photo by David Tulis.

The rising sun bathed a pair of red-nosed North American P–51 Mustangs and a blue Tigercat in yellow as they sidled up to the left flank of the bomber renamed Ukraine Ta Get Ya, while clouds and pastel sunlight framed a silver Tigercat and two more Mustangs flying in close formation on the right.

Nearly 10,000 B–25s were produced from 1939 through 1945, but only a handful still fly today. Perhaps rarer are the narrow-waisted, twin-engine, 2,100-horsepower Pratt & Whitney-powered Tigercat heavy fighters. They were designed to be flown from aircraft carriers, but limited numbers of the heavily armed, folding-wing, piston-engine, tricycle-gear fighters were produced near the end of World War II, and they arrived too late for combat duty. The Tigercats, originally single-seat ships, were updated as two-seaters and saw combat with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.

Though many aviators are familiar with the V-12-powered, 1,695-hp, single-engine P–51 Mustang fighters, few general aviation pilots have seen four of them flying in close formation frrom the Mitchell’s rear gunner position, the guns removed for peacetime operations and the view much improved.

I was transported back in time and treated to a graceful dance by skilled pilots summoning the raw horsepower of the roaring radial and V-12 engines screaming from beneath cowlings as the fighter escort bobbed and wove among the clouds, a few feet from the bomber, a model that served with distinction during World War II.

Like throngs of young pilots in World War II, our day began in darkness with a 4 a.m. wake-up, a mission briefing, and the nervous uncertainty of the morning’s objective. However, unlike those brave pilots and crewmembers of more than 75 years ago, ours was a peacetime assignment. We reveled in the awe and majesty of observing seasoned aviators keeping history alive while dancing above Lake Winnebago and the "World's Greatest Aviation Celebration."

The predawn mission served double duty as a thunderous daily wake-up call to thousands of groggy campers at Wittman Regional Airport below.

The sunrise sortie warbird experience was inspired by watchmaker Breitling and executed by pilots and crew from the Lewis Air Legends collection. It was a sight I’ll savor and never forget but one that I’m eager to share with others via photos and videos, with special thanks to these dedicated individuals for keeping history alive.

Editor's Note: If you missed the terrific video from this flight that we featured in the July 29 issue of AOPA ePilot—edited by AOPA Pilot Video Producer and Videographer Joshua Cochran, with footage captured by both Cochran and the author—we encourage you to watch it below.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.

Related Articles