CAF AirPower Tour Keeps Air Force’s History Alive

By Kenneth Perkins | DFW Newsflash | May 2021

A week ago Lynn Garner was at home watching a History Channel documentary on renowned war planes and wondering if he would ever have a chance to see one of those B-29 bombers in person. On May 14, he not only had an opportunity to see the famed military plane and slide his finger across its propeller, but actually fly in it.

Garner and dozens of others went airborne in a real B-29 during the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) AirPower History Tour at Fort Worth’s Meacham International Airport. They experienced these soaring flights in not just the B-29, notable for its firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, but other vintage aircraft like the P-51, T-6, and T-34. The tour featured over 20 WWII military aircraft made famous by the air war over Europe and Japan.

“This is, like, Disney land for crazy vintage aircraft people like me,” Garner said. “Man that was the ride of a lifetime. What’s crazy is that a week ago I didn’t even know this was happening. My buddy told me about it, so here I am.”

The CAF AirPower History Tour visits airports throughout the United States and uses aircrafts to help tell the stories of World War II aviation. The tour made its annual pit stop in Fort Worth on May 14 and 15.

“What better way to tell those stories than to do it with aircraft that can still fly,” Vintage Flying Museum director Chuckie Hospers said. “This keeps the history alive. A lot of the people who come here have relatives who went off to war and flew these air craft. They want to come back and fly in them. They might have had a grandfather who flew. They are able to keep them flying and give people these rides. If we could not, that history would go away. Our mission here is to keep and maintain these war birds in flying condition.”

Visitors who took a pass on an airplane ride were still able to tour the cockpits, talk to the crews and pilots who maintain and fly the planes, or simply marvel at the aircrafts as they took off, soared through the air above them, and landed. The event was held in front of sponsor and host Vintage Flying Museum at Hangar 33 South, one of the few hangers in the world specifically constructed to house B-29 bombers.

The tour is a must-see due to the importance and rarity of the aircrafts. The B-29 or “FIFI,” is one of only two airworthy B-29s in the world out of the nearly 4,000 built. Hospers said it was salvaged in 1971 restored to airworthy condition. The P-51 Gunfighter was part of the 55th Fighter Group, one of several units escorting Eighth Air Force bombers over Germany in WWII.

Pete Swanson, who is 81, was one of the riders of the Gunfighter, and found the experience “just amazing.”

“Really fast, even though it’s ancient, like me I guess,” Swanson said. “This was a ride of a lifetime. I never thought I’d get up in one of these. I just hope my son got some video.”

The PT-13 and T-6 were also popular for rides during the tour. They represent two of the training aircraft that thousands of wartime Army Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots had to master before earning their wings, according to Hospers.

Cliff Graham, who is 78, didn’t take a ride but “soaked up the atmosphere” from ground level, watching all of the planes soar through the air. It brought back a flood of memories, he said.

“I fell in love with planes when a neighbor of mine used to invite me to come out and fly with him. I was, I don’t know, maybe 12,” Graham said. “If my mother knew she would have become unglued.

“After college, I got into the construction business and helped build a couple of hangers out here at Meacham. The older planes are still my favorite.”

Hospers said people like Graham keep these memories alive, but it’s the tour that will snag a new generation. When 13-year-old Mitchell Seward strolled through the Rosie the Riveter exhibit at the museum, he seemed shocked to learn that not only did women help build aircraft during the war but also served as pilots in some capacities.

“That’s what this tour is all about; that’s what we’re all about with this museum,” Hospers said. “We’ve got to keep it all alive.”