If you notice unusual aircraft in the skies over Culpeper or Manassas each day this week, fret not. History buffs from across the country are warming up for Friday’s big event: the flyover by 60-plus military aircraft of the U.S. capital to honor those who brought World War II to a close.
Organized by the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover, the aerial tribute will take place over Washington’s National Mall and the Potomac River, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the global war’s end.
Wave after wave of WWII-era airplanes will pass over the District of Columbia in historically sequenced formations representing the war’s significant battles, and close with the “missing man” formation. More than 20 kinds of planes—bombers, fighters and transport and support aircraft—will take part.
Arsenal of Democracy aircraft will originate from Culpeper Regional Airport and Manassas Regional Airport before the flyover begins late Friday morning.
The plane’s staging at the Culpeper airport is not a public event, and authorities discourage people from coming to the airport to watch them. Security and public-health precautions are the primary concerns.
The flyover encourages people to enjoy the tribute along the flight path, from the American Legion Memorial Bridge, southeast down the Potomac River, along the National Mall and south toward Alexandria. Organizers also urged spectators to heed local guidance about social gatherings and physical distancing.
Given the rarity of some of the vintage aircraft and how much effort and expense it requires to keep them aloft, people will likely never again have a chance to see them flying together.
“We can’t drive tanks down Constitution Avenue nor place ships in the Tidal Basin, but ... we can fly warbird aircraft through the heart of our nation’s Capital to honor the sacrifices of those who came together three quarters of a century ago as one, to defeat fascism and preserve our freedoms,” said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and a Arsenal of Democracy Executive Committee member.
Congress passed legislation, which was signed into law in January 2019, that called for the official commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory, Bunce noted. The bill encouraged commemorative programs to honor World War II veterans, highlight the service of those who served on the home front during the war, recognize U.S. allies’ contributions, remember the Holocaust’s horrors, and educate the public about those events’ history.
“Our country owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who made incredible sacrifices to defend our country,” said John Cudahy, president and CEO of the International Council of Air Shows, and an AOD Executive Committee member. “For all of those involved in this event, it has been a genuine honor to help recognize our Greatest Generation on this 75th anniversary.”
Organizers are coordinating the event closely with multiple federal agencies, and taking into account COVID-19 protocols to carry it out, they said in a statement Monday.
Once at a holding point about 10 miles west of Leesburg, the aircraft will begin flying down the Potomac River toward Washington. As they approach the Lincoln Memorial at about 11:30 a.m., they will turn east and proceed down Independence Avenue. After reaching the mall’s World War II Memorial, the aircraft will turn south, continue down the Potomac River and return to their airports, InsideNova.com reported. With about 90 seconds between formations, the flyover will conclude by 1 p.m.
For a schedule and a map of the D.C. route, click here.
Event planners have collaborated with federal and local government officials, aircraft operators and volunteers on the safest ways to make the tribute. Officials will closely screen, monitor and limit air and ground crews’ gatherings at the staging bases. Participating aircraft are not available for public tours.
The Arsenal of Democracy Flyover also organized 2015’s aerial tribute recognizing the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, the Allie’s formal acceptance of Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces on Tuesday, 8 May 1945.
2020’s flyover this spring, for the 75th anniversary, had to be postponed until now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aerial tribute will be livestreamed on the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover website, ww2flyover.org, and Facebook page, facebook.com/ww2flyover. The livestream will include special programming, including interviews with WWII heroes, starting at 10 a.m ET. Live coverage of the first formation approaching the National Mall will start at 11:30 a.m. ET. Organizers estimate the flights over the mall will last about one hour.
To complement the tribute, the Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space Magazine created a web page, airspacemag.com/flyover, dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the war’s end. It includes the history and stories of WWII aircraft, many of which are taking part in the flyever.
“We are proud and humbled by the large number of pilots and aircraft owners who have dedicated their time and aircraft to pay homage to our World War II veterans,” said Mike Ginter, airboss of the flyover and an Executive Committee member. “It truly is fulfilling to see the reactions and emotions that overcome our nations’ heroes when they see the aircraft they flew or worked on over 75 years ago fly overhead.”
In addition to the airshow and aircraft manufacturers’ groups, the flyover’s organizers include the Commemorative Air Force—which has a Capital Wing based in Culpeper—and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
“The Commemorative Air Force is dedicated to educating, inspiring and honoring through flight and living history experiences,” CAF President Hank Coates said. “We’re proud to be part of the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover and to help ensure we recognize and remember the enormous sacrifices of our nation’s heroes.”
The presenting sponsors of events marking the war’s end in Europe and the Pacific are Bob and Elizabeth Dole, the former Senate majority leader and his wife, and Linda Hope of the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. Linda Hope is the daughter of the famed entertainer Bob Hope.
“Our hope is that these events will preserve our nation’s memory of a time when the United States persevered with selflessness and courage in the face of tyranny,” Hope and the Doles said in a statement. “We also hope to inspire our fellow citizens and freedom-loving people around the world by celebrating the legacy and character of those who have been called America’s ‘Greatest Generation.’ “
To learn more, visit ww2flyover.org. All donations are tax-deductible.
On Saturday, the day after the flyover, the CAF’s Capital Wing will offer warbird rides from Culpeper in its Stinson L-5 Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft and a huge TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, giving the purchasing public a chance to fly in one of the planes that flew in formation over the capital. Rides in an open-cockpit, Boeing PT-17 Stearman biplane—also from World War II—will be available, too.
If bad weather postpones the Arsenal of Demoracy Flyover to Saturday, the CAF wing will reschedule its rides for Sunday, Sept. 27.
To learn more about the group, visit www.commemorativeairforce.org.
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