Warbirds Over the Beach
Who said that money couldn’t buy good taste? Proof positive of the contrary is Jerry Yagen, the driving force behind the exponential growth of the Military Aviation Museum (MAM) of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
We will examine the collections of what is probably the biggest flying museum in the world in a separate feature, and will focus in this piece on the 4TH “Warbirds over the Beach” show that took place at the Museum’s pristine facility on May 19 and 20.
Jerry Yagen participated in airshows for years, and evaluated their operations with the intent of one day hosting his own event. Jerry decided to hold his first open house in 2009, inviting the local public to spend a day in the sun, inspecting his airplanes and to enjoy the aerial displays in the salty air of the Atlantic Coast.
This operation was quite successful. It was decided to make it a yearly event, and give it the more attractive name of “Warbirds over the Beach”.
The show draws extensively from the MAM’s collections, with a few guests to complement of the program. This year, with the mechanical problems plaguing their Avro Lancaster, again scheduled to be the star of the show, the Canadian Warplane Heritage delegated its Fairey Firefly, another favorite of the public.
Also scheduled to appear, Bob Russell’s C-46 Commando “Tinker Belle” made an attempt to land in Virginia Beach on Friday, but had to give up the idea when the airplane encountered a 20 mph wind straight across the runway. It landed at Chesapeake Municipal Airport, and worse yet, blew a cylinder that could not be replaced in time for the Saturday show.
Unfortunately, this was the shape of things to come as high winds reigned over the field from Friday to Sunday, while the edge of untimely tropical storm Alberto soaked the airfield with rains increasing in intensity on Sunday. In all, it was not the best of weekends for an airshow.
This, in return, explains the scope of the flight demonstrations, limited to the most wind resilient in-house machines, namely the F-51D Mustang N51EA (s/n 44-72483) “Double Trouble Two” flown by Jerry Yagen himself, Goodyear FG-1D Corsair N 46RL (Bu 92508), Aichi D3a replica, North American TB-25N N3453G (s/n 44-86844) “Wild Cargo”, Consolidated PBY-5A N9521C (Bu 48294) Catalina, Grumman TBM3-E Avenger N7030C (Bu 53454), Ju-52 (CASA-352-L) N352JU (c/n T2B-176), and to conclude the display part of the show, B-17G N3701G (s/n 44-8543A) “Chucky”, while T-6s, SNJs and Fairchild PT-22 were offering rides outside of the waiver period.
However, there could not be any argument, it was the smart thing to do.
None-the-less, this was frustrating, as the displays were taking place far away and most of the time at 1000ft, and consisted in a succession of flat, repetitive race tracks with very modest banking angles, presenting only the belly of the beasts to the public. This definitely was not conducive to decent pictures, and does not show those wonderful warbirds in their best light. Of course, a forensic technician could see the FAA fingerprints all over.
If this part of the show was somewhat lack-luster, it was compensated by the participation of the museum’s own “convertible” Messerschmitt Me-262 N262MF. At the moment based at Suffolk airport -it has not been cleared yet for operations on a grass field- it made the short trip to fly over the airfield and complete a few graceful orbs in, unfortunately, the same fashion as the other in flight displays. None-the-less, it was a real treat for enthusiasts as well as the general public and a rare sighting of a type that was all but lost for some 60 years.
The 11/29 orientation of the 5000 ft turf runway is another drawback. With the museum facilities erected on the west side, take-offs and landings are, most of the time, backlit. This problem, however, is mitigated by a line of mature trees parallel to the runway, providing a suitable period background.
A major plus is the participation of a very active contingent of re-enactors, with a marked emphasis on the German side of the conflict and some displays unique to Virginia Beach. This is a trend that has been observed at other similar venues, and the fact that the selling price of Nazi memorabilia has been going through the roof for the last five years can be somewhat worrisome for the history buff.
The massive presence of an original German 88 mm anti-aircraft gun dominated the scene and commanded immediate attention, especially when it was barking at the passing airplanes. It was not a great idea to stand next to it without ear protection.
Another memorable happening was the training of a platoon of German paratroopers waiting to embark in their Junker Ju-52 in preparation of operation Merkur (the invasion of Crete by waves of German paratroopers), culminating with simulated jumps from a wooden tower.
However, the real interest of this weekend was to see this carefully crafted collection of rare machines out in the sun, ready to take to the skies at a moment’s notice. Most of us have never seen such displays before, or, if ever, in dusty, lifeless settings.
This would be reason enough to make the trip to Virginia, drop wife and kids at the beach and indulge in our favorite activity. As for me, I know I will there next year, waiting for my favorites to come to life.
Story and photos by Gilles Auliard