Warbirds Over the Rockies, August 28-30, 2009
(See Pics Below)
By Jet Thompson
The sixth annual Warbirds Over the Rockies event was hosted by the Love-Air R/C club at their field just east of Ft Collins, CO. I’ve attended this event before, so I didn’t wonder if it was going to be successful, I just wanted to know what new (or old) and cool plane would capture my attention this year! With Brian O’Meara acting as the event coordinator and Mike Harrington as the contest director, the three-day warbird-fest was in very good hands. People literally came from all over the world to attend this annual event. The longest-distance-traveled award went to Eduardo and Ana Estavez who came all the way from Belo Horizonte in southeastern Brazil! They came with Eduardo’s PT-19 and represented their home country admirably. Of course, most of the pilots and planes were a little more local than that, but from my quick count, nearly half of the over 140 pilots and planes came from outside Colorado. From California to Florida and from Texas to Wisconsin, people came from all over the country to have a little fun, burn a little fuel (or put some electrons to work, as the case may be) and enjoy the company of like-minded warbird enthusiasts.
Everyone can fly
One of the very best things about events like this one is that it’s open to everyone who wants to fly, as long as they’re flying a warbird. For me, the thing that makes it cool is that you don’t have to have an expensive model to come out and have fun. You can (and several did) come out with an inexpensive, straight-from-the-box electric zoomer and fit right in with the big multi-thousand dollar jets. Another great thing about warbird rallies is that there are always representatives from many different facets of the hobby. There were planes built from kits, planes built from plans and planes built from three-views. There were straight-from-the-box electrics and ARFs, and some ARFs that were bashed to look like a plane with a different paint scheme, or a different version of the original. Everywhere you turned, there was something cool to check out. There were hangar queens that haven’t seen fuel in years, and planes that have seen so much action they really look as if they’ve been shot at. There were jets and bombers, scouts and troop carriers, and even an electric-powered, rocket-assisted German Comet.
There were several vendors on site and lots of good deals to be had. Aeroworks was one of the biggest vendors there and they brought along several of their new models for the public to check out. There was also a food vendor at the flying field where pilots and spectators could re-fuel their bellies, but the real place to eat was at the banquet on Saturday night. For a very reasonable $30 ticket, there was a very nice dinner and we listened to a gentleman named Frank Speer talk about his experiences as an Ace in the skies over Europe during WWII. Mr. Speer gave an inspiring talk and it was an honor for me to be in the same room with him. His unassuming demeanor and quick wit kept the room dead quiet as we sat and listened to a few tales about his stay in three different Stalags prior to his escape and repatriation. Some of the stories were humorous, and some were breathtakingly stark, but they were all real and inspiring. Mr. Speer has written a few books, and I know that at least one of them is available for purchase at one of the major online retailers. After Mr. Speer spoke, there was an auction for an impressive amount of RC-related booty, and there were lots of good deals to be had.
The beautiful…and the really ugly
There were so many excellent and beautiful planes to look at that it was a difficult task to pick out a few to really go over, and I only had a couple of days, so naturally, I found a couple of ugly ones instead. One plane that caught my eye was brought to the field by a very nice gentleman named Ken Perkins. He brought his P.Z.L Karas, which was a WWII Polish bomber. Ken scratch-built this 34 pound, 101-inch beauty from his own plans, and he did an excellent job. He powered it with a 9 cylinder Siedel engine that has functional collecting ring and scale exhaust. Dave Morales flew the Karas for Ken, but engine trouble limited the display to one brief flight. There are many scale details on the Karas, including the belly position for the bombardier. Ken also brought out his beautiful F9C-2 Curtis Sparrowhark. This model features a working (though never actually tested) docking hook that was used by the real Sparrowhawk to dock with a rigid airship while in flight, like a flying aircraft carrier.
Another really ugly plane that flew was Dave Morales’ 101-inch, G-38 powered Marine Corps PBJ-1 Mitchell. The PBJ-1was the Navy variant of the B-25 Mitchell flown by the Army. Now, normally I don’t consider the Mitchell to be an ugly plane, but this one was an exception. Dave and his “friends” spent quite a bit of time and effort detailing some really extensive battle damage on this plane. They came across the shell of this Mitchell and pre-planned flak and machine gun damage. They blew holes through the wings, fuselage and tail, detailed the twisted metal and damaged wing ribs, and even went so far as to mercilessly kill off all the crew, save for the pilot. The Mitchell flew during the lunchtime show, and the flight concluded after a simulated bomb run resulted in damage to one engine. Dave flipped the smoke on (simulating an engine fire) and brought it in for a mostly safe landing. I say, “mostly safe” because the gear collapsed on touchdown, and Dave (with a wink) would neither confirm nor deny if he did that on purpose, but a good clue was the lack of gear doors!
The lunchtime demo was probably the highlight for the spectators, and it was expertly organized. The demonstration took the crowd through the history of wartime aviation. The first flight was WWI birds, and included several Fokkers and Sopwiths. Next on the flightline were pre-WWII trainers, including Eduardo Esteves’ PT-19, which came all the way from Brazil, and a beautiful Stearman flown by Egil Wigert that has more than 1,050 flights (Egil told me that the Stearman was in pretty rough shape when he bought it, and had a beehive in the tail!) Next came the WWII bombers and fighters, and then the crown favorite, the post-WWII planes. The highlight of this show was when David Schulman flew Brian O’Meara’s absolutely stunning F-4 Phantom low and fast and the pass was punctuated by a pyrotechnic sonic boom. David is well known, literally around the world, as one of the world’s best model jet pilots. If you’ve ever attended a jet rally of some renown in the last several years, you’ve probably seen David fly, and it is amazing.
The Fuddy Duddy
Of all the really great and wonderful experiences to be had at WOTR 2009, my personal favorite was neither planned nor expected and it will stay with me for a very long time. Steve Forrest came out to Warbirds Over the Rockies from Sturgeon MO with a few of his planes, including a couple of B-17s. Steve is a B-17 enthusiast and brought two big and beautiful B-17s with him, Liberty Bell which was the plane he intended to fly, and Fuddy Duddy, which was his backup. Liberty Bell had some unexpected troubles, so he pulled out the Fuddy Duddy and flew it instead. After one flight on Saturday afternoon, Steve heard a voice
call out to him from the crowd, “Hey, where’d you get the idea for that ‘box-K’ on the tail of that plane?” so Steve went over to answer the gentleman’s question. As they chatted, the man from the crowd (Mr. Don Jones) told Steve that the ‘box-K’ insignia was from the 447th bomb group in WWII, which, of course, Steve already knew. Steve has a special love for B-17s and found a picture of the plane in a book while doing research. He liked the plane and logo so he decided to build a model of it. As the two men talked, Don revealed that he flew with the 447th bomb group, so Steve invited the man out to get a better look at the plane. As they approached the B-17, Don remarked that he thought the tail number looked like the tail number on his B-17 in WWII, “but we called it the Fuddy Duddy.” Steve brought Mr. Jones around to the nose of the plane and showed him the Fuddy Duddy art, and they both knew that there was a connection. As it turns out, Don flew 29 missions over Europe in the Fuddy Duddy, including six or seven over Berlin, as the top turret gunner. He managed to make it out of the war without a scratch, but the Fuddy Duddy (later renamed something else) eventually crashed. In fact, as he tells it, Don gets a lot of the credit for the name of the plane. He recalled that the crew was discussing names for the plane but weren’t coming up with anything they all liked, so he said, “Aren’t we all just a bunch of fuddy duddys?” and the name stuck. Don agreed to sign the tail of the plane, and addresses were exchanged so that the two men could remain in touch. After hearing the story, and meeting the men involved, it occurred to me that sometimes these toys that we all enjoy so much sometimes become real. Steve didn’t know that a member of the crew of the Fuddy Duddy was going to be in the crowd. And Don didn’t know that he was going to see a model of his plane on the day he decided to come check out Warbirds Over the Rockies. But what happened turned out be a little bit of magic that made Steve Forrest’s model come to life, even just a little bit, on a very special day.
There were so many planes, and so many experiences to be had at Warbirds Over the Rockies, and too many stories to tell, but the overarching theme was one of camaraderie and fun, and a love for planes that sometimes become real.