Air Show Report : Wings Over Dallas 2018
Wings Over Dallas 2018 - CAF WWII Airshow
Michael Cleaver covers the 2018 Wings Over Dallas warbird airshow organized by the Commemorative Air Force and shares his experience of a flight on board the B-17 Flying Fortress "Texas Raiders". All photos by the author.
Wings Over Dallas Airshow - Oct 27–28, 2018
In the month of October, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) holds its annual Wings Over Houston and Dallas air shows in Texas. These are normally held on consecutive weekends, and both shows feature warbirds owned by the CAF, other non-profit organizations and privately owned as well. As the venues (Ellington Field in Houston and the Executive Airport in Dallas) are relatively close to each other - some 240 miles – a trip to see both is quite feasible, and this is what I decided to do in 2018. See also my Wings Over Houston 2018 report.
The CAF began with the purchase of a P-51 Mustang, and a small group of ex-service pilots who wanted to maintain the aircraft in flying condition. The year was 1957 and the initial intent was simply to preserve an example of every American aircraft that flew during World War II, quickly the decision was made to not only keep an example of all military combat service aircraft, but also to keep them all in flying condition!
This was the beginning of the (CAF) then called the Confederate Air Force. The CAF headquarters are now in Dallas and it is the world’s largest owner and operator of vintage military aircraft. Known as the CAF “Ghost Squadron” there are approximately 170 aircraft owned, most of them in flying condition, some undergoing maintenance and others still in the process of restoration. Honoring todays surviving veterans and educating the younger generations about aviation heritage is a vital part of the CAF’s mission.
A week after the Wings Over Houston 2018 airshow, further north at Dallas Executive Airport and with much better weather prospects was the 2018 Wings Over Dallas WWII airshow. This is a significantly smaller airshow than the Houston event and is focused on World War Two era warbirds. Held at the CAF Headquarters, the CAF’s mission of education was being promoted vigorously.
Friday October 26th was an “Education Day” for schools and other groups. The CAF work very hard to educate and inspire younger people about aviation and its history, and to support this it is the intention of the CAF to develop an educational campus located at the airport, see https://www.cafeducation.org/.
Besides the free entry to the show as a mark of respect for their wartime service, and as part of the education theme, WWII veterans attend on the Friday and over the weekend to relate their experiences of flying in a time of conflict.
Photographically the morning of the show is the best for light, especially if runway 13/31 (the longer one) is used with aircraft taking off in a south-east direction. In the afternoon it’s not so good for photography.
This minor niggle aside, the Wings over Dallas is a damn good show. Aircraft fly nice and tight to the display line and there are some excellent curving and low passes. As is the case in the United Kingdom, smaller shows can often benefit from more dynamic and tighter displays and at Dallas the Hellcat presented one of the displays that excelled in this respect. A 300mm lens would have been enough to get some excellent images.
The actual flying display doesn’t commence until the afternoon, however there is plenty of opportunities for photographers in the morning, as most of the CAF aircraft undertake revenue flights - with passengers paying for flights – and there were several trips by the bombers, including the B-29 “FiFi” and P-51 Mustangs amongst others. These revenue flights are essential to provide the funds to be able to maintain these historic aircraft. Flight crews are volunteers, who are helping out often while on their holidays, so the cost of the ticket will go directly to supporting the continued safe flying of the aircraft.
Given that the Dallas airshow is not very far from Houston, and that the CAF holds both of them, there were some shared participants, as the B-17 “Texas Raiders“ (recently repainted) and the restored C-47 “That’s All Brother” could be seen at both shows.
The B-17 “Texas Raiders” commenced proceedings at 10:00 with a start-up of all four engines in front of the crowd. An excellently located free grandstand provided super elevated views of the action.
Texas Raiders was followed by the C-47 “That’s All Brother”, a historic plane rescued by the CAF from the scrap heap (a boneyard in Oshkosh) in 2015. This aircraft led the D-Day invasion of 1944, dropping paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division into Normandy. The C-47 was accompanied by the war time stories of David Hamilton, a D-Day Pathfinder pilot.
At noon there was an impressive armor display provided by The National Museum of the Pacific War that educated the audience by demonstrating some of the weapons and tactics employed in the Pacific theatre. Vehicles with weapon demonstrations and narration by General Georg Patton, actually, an amazing look (and sound) alike by Denny G Hair from Patton’s Third Army Living Historians. This was one of the best demos of this type I’ve seen, both entertaining and informing.
A definite highlight of the show was the D-Day “Normandy Revisited” re-enactment where four C-47’s with two of them carrying paratroopers in accurate period dress (Liberty Jump Team and WWII Airborne Demonstration Team), that made jumps from two of the aircraft, (That All Brother/Ready for Duty), and looked totally authentic.
The bomber parade included several types I hadn’t seen fly before, the A-26K Invader “Special Kay” (www.a26k.org) and the A-26B Invader “Night Mission”. Special Kay was recently featured in an article in Warbird Digest, which detailed the history of the recent eight-year restoration and is well worth reading.
“Devil Dog” presents a US Marine Corps B-25 version designated PBJ-1. PB stands for Patrol Bomber and the J is the designation for North American Aviation, as the manufacturer. The color scheme of blue is most striking on a medium bomber of this size, a real eye catcher!
The P-51C Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen” of the CAF Red Tail Squadron is another fine-looking aircraft that is also used as an educational tool at many airshows. It’s hard to believe looking at her now that she was on display at Montana State University for 40 years before her restoration! As with so many aircraft there is a history to tell and this aircraft cannot be mentioned without remembering Don Hinz, who supported the foundation of the Red Tail Squadron and restoration project. He flew the aircraft until a crash in 2004, Don passed away on the day after. The aircraft was restored again to honor him and returned to flight in 2009.
The phrase “By Request” applied just under the P-51C front windows is interesting. It comes from the pilot Benjamin O. Davis Jr., “By Request” was the name that this leader of the 332nd Fighter Group gave his aircraft. Davis chose the name because Tuskegee-trained pilots were being specifically called upon to escort bombers because of their reputation and skill to get the bombers to their targets unharmed.
I previously mentioned the revenue flights that the CAF use to support the maintenance of these historic aircraft and “keep em flying”. Prior to the show I had booked a flight on the B-17 “Texas Raiders”. For the price, you get 25-30 minutes in the actual air. Price will vary depending on where you sit. In the back of the aircraft is the cheapest, in the bombardier position the most expensive. Costs are explained on b17texasraiders.org.
I was surprised how difficult I found it to get in. The B-17 is a large bomber but the aft door is quite small. Once inside, it is impossible to stand up straight and moving about must be done carefully - without gripping onto the control cables!
In the back it is okay, once given the OK by the loadmaster, to walk through the bomb bay up to the cockpit. It’s a tight squeeze though, so don’t take too much equipment with you, one camera is enough. It’s an eye-opening experience of a small part of what veterans went through. I thought about how this would be with a flight suit and parachute on as well, especially if one had to get out in a hurry.
Although Texas Raiders will only go up to approx. 2000 feet on these revenue flights it’s enough to give some small impression of what crews had to endure. As well as the cramped quarters, it is very loud, and communication can only be achieved by shouting. It would be cold, and of course, you could be under attack as well. I can only imagine how fatiguing a wartime flight would have been.
As ever with airshows, some changes in the schedule were made. Disappointingly, the SB2C Helldiver was not there, neither was a F4U Corsair. The Cavanaugh Flight Museum provided a Skyraider to fill the gap, which was very welcome. Another deviation was brought about by the no-show of the Bell P-39 Airacobra, which was to have been part of “Snake Flight” with the P-63 Kingcobra.
Thankfully the excellent flying made up for the missing aircraft.
Closing the show was the AeroShell aerobatic team. Comprising four AT-6 Texan aircraft performing a tight routine. They fly 3-4 shows per month during the airshow season so are well practiced in formation flying. The T-6 nicknamed the “Pilot Maker” is much respected classic trainer and widespread throughout the aviation world, as (A)T-6 Texan, SNJ, or Harvard.
It was saddening to hear that the P-51D “Pecos Bill” that appeared at both Wings Over Houston and Wings over Dallas crashed a few weeks later at an event in Fredericksburg. The pilot Cowden Ward and his passenger Vincent Losada, a WWII B-17 veteran, were both lost in this tragic crash. My condolences to the families and friends of both pilots. Blue Skies and Tailwinds Gentlemen.
Wings Over Dallas 2019 is scheduled for October 26-27.
For more information please visit the Wings Over Dallas website.
A big thanks to the CAF volunteers for organizing the event and in particular to Leah Block Vice President of Marketing for granting the media access.
Report and photos by Michael Cleaver ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 7 March 2019