WWII-era Warplanes Fly Over Washington

May 08,2015

Seventy years after the Second World War ended in Europe, warplanes of that era still attract a lot of attention and admiration, both for their designers and the crews that flew in them. Although manufactured in the tens of thousands, only a small number remain, kept in flying condition by devoted enthusiasts who pass their love for vintage aircraft from generation to generation.

More than 50 World War II - era planes flew in formation over the World War II Memorial in Washington Friday, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict in Europe.

The roar of mighty piston engines overhead tranfixed midday strollers and crowds along the National Mall.

"It's just been an incredible day to come here, after all these years, and see these airplanes again," said Camille Thornton.

The flyby, called Arsenal of Democracy, was organized by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Its president and CEO, Peter Bunce, says restorating old airplanes is a slow and painstakingly hard process done mostly by enthusiasts.

“Recently, there was a very iconic aircraft that was fished out in Lake Michigan and that aircraft will go through a very long restoration processes, it’s years and years," said Bunce.

Many of the planes, such as this Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, called Texas Raiders. The plane belongs to a Texas-based non-profit organization called Commemorative Air Force.

Civilian corporate pilot Buddy Cooksey has been flying its vintage planes at air shows for more than 40 years. He says the group has over 11,000 members but is always looking for new fans ready to devote time and work to restoration and upkeep of old planes.

“We are looking for young ladies, young men, race, color, creed does not matter to us. They got the enthusiasm – we want them," said Cooksey.

Cooksey says, despite their age, the planes are still in very good shape.

“Strangely enough the airplanes are quite durable, they were meant to be that durable. And there’s lot of redundancy in the systems and so, the problem that we have [is] the parts are not easily to come by," he said.

Cooksey says every once in a while, a box of spare parts is discovered in some warehouse, but many of them have to be manufactured new, which is not cheap. But he says it is important to keep these planes flying as a tribute to all who fought in them.

“I believe that they could be continually operated for probably… forever, as long as we can continue to do what we are doing," said Cooksey.