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Warplanes a Reminder of our World War II Veterans

One of the featured local attractions for Veterans Day recognition this year was a display of World War II-era airplanes at the downtown airport. The scheduled and advertised centerpieces of the commemoration were an AT6 Texan, a P-40 Warhawk, and a PBY Catalina flying boat. The nearby museum of the Military History Center of the Carolinas was also open for free tours.

Both venues were jammed with visitors of all ages. Parking was at a premium, and the milling crowd made it hard to get good photos of the featured planes without some stranger inadvertently wandering into the field of view just as one snapped a photo. (I'm sure that I, too, ruined a few photos that other people were trying to get. That's an ever-present hazard at such events.) One merchandise vendor had a sound system larger than his display table blaring World War II-era (and other more modern) music louder than the roar of the engines on the AT6 Texans that were taking visitors with enough disposable income on flights.

I had two goals in going to this event: (1) to see the P-40 in flight as advertised (I had already seen several in static displays) and (2) to see the PBY Catalina, which I had never seen up close. I was disappointed on both counts. The P-40 didn't fly, and the PBY didn't even show up--no explanations offered.

The AT6 Texan was a single-engine advanced trainer built by North American Aviation and used to prepare American pilots to fly the more advanced fighter aircraft used in combat during World War II. It was also used in both the Korean and the Vietnam conflicts as forward air control aircraft.

The Curtis P-40 Warhawk, with its shark-mouth nose art, is perhaps one of the most-recognized fighter planes of World War II. The single-engine fighter first flew in 1938 and was used by the British against German forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean. But it was not widely recognized by the public until used by the American Volunteer Group, a group of American pilots led by General Claire Chennault who helped the Nationalist Chinese fight the Japanese. It was superseded in the European theater by the P-38 Lightning, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-51 Mustang.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat is perhaps most closely associated with the rescue of pilots who ditched at sea and seamen whose vessels were sunk. Although it was, indeed, used for search-and-rescue operations, it was also used extensively for anti-submarine patrols, bombing missions, reconnaissance, and even cargo transportation. (Its designation as "PBY" indicates that it was designed primarily for use as a patrol bomber. The Y is the designation for Consolidated Aircraft Company.) Of the planes advertised for display at the Veterans Day event, the PBY Catalina was the one I most wanted to see. That's one reason I was disappointed when it didn't show.

Over all, however, the event was a good reminder of not only the role these three planes played in waging and winning World War II but also the many men who flew and manned them in the conflict. After all, planes don't fly themselves; the human element is critical to what made them famous. It would have been nice if the event organizers could have also created displays honoring those brave men. After all, Veterans Day is meant to focus on the people who served.

Anyhow, that's what I was thinking about as I toured the exhibits, whether flying or static.

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