Backstage Pass to AOD: Flying Over Restricted Airspace of Washington DC
Since January of 2015, the planning for the Arsenal of Democracy was underway. The plan to gather warbirds from all over the country to fly over the National Mall in honor of VE Day or Victory over Europe ending World War II was an impossible dream to many. But on May 8, 2015 the impossible became a reality.
There were two airports where the warbirds stayed outside of Washington DC. The heavy bombers such as the B-29, B-17s, and the B-24 were staged at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia and all of the smaller warbirds such as the B-25s to fighters and trainers were at Culpeper Airport.
The CAF National Capitol Squadron was a gracious host to all the participants at the Culpeper Airport. As planes started flying in for the flyover the weather became a factor with rain and storms looming throughout the week leading up to the flyover. The practice day was filled with formations of various aircraft. A total of 56 aircraft were accounted for and ready to go for the historic flyover.
I was staging out of Manassas and watched the mass assembly of media gather in the terminal for the Arsenal of Democracy media day. Major TV networks from all over the world were in attendance including reporters from China and the UK. Reporters and video crews were able to take a flight on the bombers with VIPs and veterans who actually flew these types of aircraft during World War II. In attendance were World War II triple ace P-51 pilot, Bud Anderson and Karnig Thomasian, 91, was a B-29 left gunner with the U.S. Army Air Forces 20th Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater. He was a Japanese POW. On our B-17 was a 96 year old veteran named Urban Rahoi. He was a captain with the 15th Air Force’s 463rd Bomb Group and fought in Africa and Italy during WWII. Rahoi still flies today and flew in his cub all the way from Alaska to meet up with us for this historic occasion.
After a brief welcome by the local Manassas representatives, Pete Bunce of GAMA, John Cudahy of ICAS, and representatives of the Commemorative Air Force briefly talked about how the event came together and the events that were going to take place. The press conference ended and the media scrambled out to stake their spots in a taped off area to watch the warbirds on the ramp start up. Some reporters had the great opportunity to fly on the bombers with the veterans.
Before hopping into the bombers all media went through a safety brief. With all of the cameras set, the ramp came alive with the sounds of radial engines and smoke filling the ramp. The bombers taxied out and took off to join up with the rest of the warbirds to practice the flyover at Culpeper Airport.
After an intense day of media coverage later in the evening I left to cover the Victory Over Europe Gala at the National Air & Space Museum. Before the gala started I had the honor to shoot some photos of World War II veterans who would take part in the program later that evening. Col. Bud Anderson, Col. Charles McGee, Cdr. Chester Finagin, and Staff Sgt Karnig Thomasian were among the veterans present. Not able to attend was Lt. Bob Hoover due to health reasons.