Vintage planes due at airport festival
When Maj. Jimmy Stewart looked out the window of his B-24 bomber while flying to targets in Germany in 1944, he probably was reassured by the sight of American fighter planes forming up nearby to escort the bombers. And it’s likely some of those “little friends” he saw were P-47 Thunderbolts.
Next weekend, one of the few surviving airworthy Thunderbolts will land at the airport named for the former war hero and movie star. It’s believed it will be the first time a P-47 has touched down at the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport.
“It’s very rare,” said Paul Stojkov, a pilot for the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, N.Y., who will bring the 1945 P-47D Thunderbolt to the airport’s annual festival. Stojkov estimates there are only seven Thunderbolts in the world still flying.
The Thunderbolt was originally designed to be a high-altitude fighter but eventually the rugged plane became one of the most effective ground-attack aircraft of World War II. More than 14,000 P-47s were built, but when the fighting ended many Thunderbolts and other “war-weary” American planes were considered excesses in the military inventory and were scrapped.
Thunderbolts were the largest single-engine piston fighter plane built, and they weigh more than 7 tons. It is only now that one can land at the Indiana County Airport because the new runway is 5,500 feet long.
The P-47 coming to Indiana is “Jacky’s Revenge.” It was built in Evanston, Ind., found in Yugoslavia after WW II and was later restored in California.
“The Thunderbolt is one of my favorites,” Stojkov said. “It is a great-flying airplane.”
But the Thunderbolt doesn’t get exercised as much as some of the museum’s other WW II fighters because it’s a gas hog.
At takeoff power the P-47’s 2,000-horsepower radial engine drinks gasoline at the rate of 275 gallons an hour, but the takeoff is only two or three minutes. At normal cruising speed it burns about 90 gallons an hour, Stojkov said.
With insurance and other expenses, it costs about $2,000 an hour to keep Jacky’s Revenge in the air.
Visitors to the airport festival won’t be able to fly in the rare P-47, but they will have the opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of Indiana from an even older plane.
A 1929 Curtiss-Wright Travel Air D400, an open cockpit biplane owned and operated by Goodfolk & O’Tymes Biplane Rides, of Xenia, Ohio, will give rides to paying customers.
Dewey Davenport, the plane’s owner and pilot, said the Travel Air started air travel and accommodates two passengers who sit side-by-side in front of the pilot. The plane later became a favorite of barnstormers, crop dusters and even skywriters because it was rugged but light and can take off and land from short fields.
According to Davenport, only about 60 Travel Airs are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and only about 40 are still flying.
“Most are in museums,” he said.
The Travel Air, he said, allows passengers to experience air travel the way it originally was: “Low and slow, with the wind through your hair. … I want to give people an opportunity to experience what it was like in the 1920s and ’30s,” he said.
He furnishes goggles for his passengers, who have ranged from age 3 to 91.
“They love it,” he said, adding some have hugged him when they got back on the ground.
During the festival, Davenport will give 15- to 20-minute rides at about 1,500 feet in the Travel Air for $80.
Aerial performances by both the Thunderbolt and Travel Air depend on the weather.
Many other vintage and military planes and medical helicopters will be on display at the festival.
There will also be a pancake breakfast hosted by the Civil Air Patrol from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days; the Experimental Aircraft Association, through its Young Eagles program, will be giving free airplane rides to youth ages 8 to 17; hay wagon tours of the airport will be available; and there will be food booths and a display of antique and classic cars and trucks and displays by a WW II living history group both days.
Another highlight of the festival will be the fifth annual WW II-era big band hangar dance Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. The doors will open at 5 p.m., a dinner will start at 5:30 p.m. and recognition of military veterans will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the music and dancing at 7 p.m. The dance, dinner and veterans awards ceremony are all free.
Admission and parking for both days of the festival are also free.