By Nick Chismar

Every year during the first full weekend in June, the quiet taxiways and fields around the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM) turn into a sea of warbirds and reenactors as World War II Weekend begins.  This year’s 33rd Annual World War II Weekend took place June 7th, 8th, and 9th, and the combined near-perfect weather with fantastic air displays alongside endless encampments and reenactors. Even with some gusty winds and some aircraft maintenance, the weekend once again captivated crowds as warbirds once again filled the air over Reading, Pennsylvania.

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Kicking off on Friday June 7th, spectators were welcomed by the usual sounds of airshow regulars such as the Delaware Aviation Museum’s B-25J USAAF #44-30734 (N9079Z) Panchito, the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) P-51D USAAF #44-73843 (N10601) Red Nose, SBD-5 Dauntless BuNo 54532 (N82GA), and B-29 USAAF #44-62070 (N529B) FIFI making their rounds of ride flights. Those who were driving to the show on US-222 are often treated to the sight of one of these incredible aircraft flying low overhead as they takeoff over the highway. Cars can often be seen slowing down or pulling over to catch a glimpse of the aircraft as they fly off on their routes. Aircraft arrivals keep enthusiasts looking to the sky as they fly overhead and break to come back and land.

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Each day typically opens with a paratrooper jump not long after the National Anthem is sung. More often than not, it is the Tunison Foundation’s C-47 USAAF #42-24064 (N74589) Placid Lassie that was seen lifting into the air, loaded with eager paratroopers from the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team (WWII ADT). This year however, both would be soaring over Normandy rather than Reading.  On Friday, spectators were treated to a new aircraft at the show as the WWII ADT jumping from their own C-49 Wild Kat.

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Unfortunately, high winds would scrub Saturday’s jump, and Sunday’s would drift in a different direction as one jumper would be caught in an updraft. Slowly drifting higher as the rest returned to earth, this one lone jumper ended up outside of the airport grounds but thankfully was uninjured. While this unexpected twist was quite entertaining for some, it kept others holding their breath. This wouldn’t be the only unexpected moment of the weekend.

Friday afternoon’s show would begin with sharp formation displays by the Jersey Jerks and expert aerobatics from Kevin Russo in his T-6 (N211A). Following the T-6s came CAF Airbase Georgia’s FG-1D Corsair BuNo 92468 (N9964Z), which screamed into the air as pilot Mark Todd began his aerobatic display. Screaming in over the photo pit, photographers quickly brought their cameras up to capture the iconic aircraft as it flew overhead. The Corsair would complete several low passes and loops before breaking off to enter the pattern to land. Unknown to viewers, an issue had arisen that prompted Mark Todd to bring the Corsair in as soon as he noticed. The Corsair would eventually have its problem safely sorted, but not in time to fly again in the show.

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The Warbirds of Glory Museum tent and display
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The nose of the Wabirds of Glory Museum’s B-25 Sandbar Mitchell

The surprise of the Corsair cutting its display short, and the disappointment of it not flying for the rest weekend, quickly dissipated as the rest of the fighter displays began. The weekend was full of incredible displays by Airbase Georgia’s P-51D Red Nose and P-63A USAAF #42-68941 (N191H) as well as Jerry Wells returned to fly his impressive display in his Bucker Bu 133, which is always a crowd-pleaser.  Later in the show, it was the larger warbird’s turn to make passes and these included C-53 USAAF #42-20095 (N34DF) Beach City Baby, B-25J USAAF #44-30832 (N3155G) Take-Off Time, and the aforementioned Panchito and FIFI.  Out of all the performances there, many may argue that one in particular stole the show.

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Thom Richard is no stranger to WWII Weekend, having dazzled crowds in the American Airpower Museum’s Curtiss P-40M USAAF #43-5795 (N1232N) The Jacky C back in 2019. Unfortunately, Thom never had a chance to return in 2020 as the COVID-19 Pandemic prompted the show to be cancelled that summer. This year, Thom was back and with his own Curtiss TP-40N USAAF #42-104977 (NX977WH) American Dream. Taking off for his first display on Friday, Thom rocketed up and past the photo pit on his climb out to loiter for a bit before starting his routine. Suddenly, Thom was screaming in toward the field, catching people off guard as he passed nearly equal height to the photo pit. The pass brought many back to the year before when Stan Musick screamed by the pit on a low pass in the Corsair.

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The rest of his displays were all equally impressive. Flying low enough he could have been cutting the grass, Thom flew his Warhawk with an incredible level of skill and precision. On Saturday the CAF Dallas/Fort Worth Wing’s R4D-6S BuNo 50783 (N151ZE) Ready 4 Duty made a surprise pit stop on their flight back to Texas from Connecticut.  The R4D was slated to fly alongside Placid Lassie and D-Day leader C-47B USAAF #42-92847 (N47TB) That’s All Brother to Normandy, but engine trouble turned into an engine change in Connecticut. Their brief visit was more than welcome as many people were amazed to see a Navy paint scheme on a Gooney Bird. Crowds were kept glued to the sky by the skills of all the pilots that weekend, and when the aircraft weren’t flying there was plenty of other things to do.

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It is always been said that WWII Weekend is more than just an airshow as thousands of reenactors build and live in authentic encampments on the show grounds. Displays, battles, performances, and activities run endlessly all weekend. Visitors can watch warbirds fly overhead as four flamethrowers advance on a makeshift bunker with flames and smoke filling the air, or take a walk through the French Village shortly after American GIs liberate it in a skirmish.  Many visitors stay at the show well after the airshow itself comes to a close as the hangar dance takes over on both Friday and Saturday nights. Reenactors can be seen in their dress uniforms as visitors wear this ‘40s best. Meanwhile, photographers are often busy getting ready for yet another photo shoot.

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There are also plenty of static aircraft to see and tour, such as Beach City Baby and MAAM’s B-25J USAAF #44-29939 (N9456Z) Briefing Time, among others.  The highlight this year, however, was MAAM’s own Northrop P-61B USAAF #42-39445 (N550NF), which spectators lined up outside the museum’s main hangar to see in its new gloss black paint. You can read the latest restoration update here.

Last year, the WWII Weekend introduced a new opportunity for photographers, both amateur and professional, in the form of the new photo pit. The pit sits on the other side of the field on an elevated space just inside the airport fence. Sitting just outside of the airshow’s display box, the pit offers a unique perspective to photograph from. With the sun to your back in the afternoon, it soon becomes a great place to capture performances as the aircraft are fully lit in the afternoon sun. Without the sound of the crowd, and with only the noise of camera shutters, aircraft often sound different as they pass overhead.

This year, the now expanded photo pit was put together with the other photo opportunities that have already been at the event to create the WWII Weekend Photo Experience. This includes four unique photo opportunities such as the sunset and sunrise photo walks, the pit itself, and the night photoshoot. During the sunset photo walk, which took place on Friday, FIFI was the main subject. The iconic bomber was backlit by the amber glow of the sunset directly behind it as over 50 photographers made the most of the stunning light.

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Back for it’s fourth year, the night photoshoot brought together three iconic aircraft to be expertly lit by Lerro Photography. Gathered on the ramp by with FIFI, photographers had the opportunity to photograph the Warbird Factory’s TBM-3E BuNo 53818 (N9584Z) Ida Red, Alan Armstrong’s replica B5N Kate (N7062C), and Beach City Baby. In the middle of the shoot, a group of photographers took notice of some fireworks off in the distance and took advantage of the moment. After Beach City Baby had shut down, Pete Lerro brought out a group of reenactors for a few staged photos in front of the aircraft. Dressed as paratroopers, the moment could have come straight out of the D-Day preparations.

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One thing that many took note of during the night shoot was one of the aircraft being worked on. It was already late and well after the show grounds had closed aside from the dance, but there on the ramp was Larry Kelley and the volunteers with Panchito. After encountering an issue earlier, they were still hard at work on the aircraft as the night shoot began, only stopping to put things away as the shoot was underway. As the shoot ended close to 11 pm and we all made our way to the gates, the unmistakable sound of the B-25 starting up could be heard. While our night had ended as photographers, the dedicated Panchito crew was running up a final time before getting back into the air the next morning. Those sorts of long days and late nights working on aircraft takes incredible dedication, and it is something that the average visitor may never see to fully appreciate the work that goes into keeping these warbirds flying.

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While the airshow and surrounding encampments make for an incredible experience, the most important part of the event can be found inside the main hangar. Over a dozen World War II veterans can be found at their own tables throughout the weekend. Sharing stories with visitors, signing books, and simply enjoying the event, it all come back to them in the end. With their generation quickly leaving us, it is even more important to listen to their stories and to take the time to talk to them whenever the chance arises.

 

In the end, the 33rd annual World War II Weekend was another success. With people from all around the world attending, including a couple I met from Nebraska, it certainly is more than just an airshow. Despite heavy winds, the weather could not be better, and the level of talent and skill in every performance was impressive to see. From the dazzling aerial displays to the encampments and thousands of reenactors, WWII Weekend always has something new for one to see.

The 34th annual WWII Weekend is scheduled for June 6th, 7th, and 8th in 2025 at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania. 

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