Let’s face it: Once you’ve seen one or two airshows, haven’t you seen them all? Well, that’s what I thought before attending the Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum.
In what might be one of the country’s greatest displays of historic warbirds, airshow management, and attendee satisfaction, my airshow expectations have been completely changed thanks to the hard work of the Fagen family, museum staff, and volunteers.
Instead of finding souvenirs and corn dogs at every corner, there were veterans. Veterans wearing World War II service hats, veterans in uniform, and veterans wearing the American flag. The day’s events were even kickstarted by three World War II fighter pilots—Huie Lamb, Jim Tyler, and Donald McPherson—who sat at show-stage center and took turns sharing stories with the crowd.
Not only could attendees shake the hands of the service members who proudly served their nation, but they were also encouraged to get up close and personal with the warbirds.
North American P–51 Mustangs, a Lockheed P–38 Lightning, a Grumman F6F Hellcat, and a Vought F4U Corsair were just a few of the fighter aircraft on display. Vultee BT–13 Valiant pilot and performer Devyn Reiley said, “The event [was] an incredible example of all the phases of airplanes and the training of our pilots of World War [II]. Every phase [was] here. From super early on in the war to later, it’s just always good to see all these airplanes out here to fly.”
And fly is just what they did. For approximately three hours, warbird performers took to the skies to demonstrate wartime dogfights, aerobatic routines, and formation displays.
Twenty-two-year-old pilot Parker Rathbun flew the Commemorative Air Force’s SNJ-5 Nakajima B5N replica Kate (a combination of a BT–13 and a North American T–6 Texan) in the show. Not only did he enjoy flying as part of the Tora Tora Tora Airshows act, he also enjoyed spectating. “There [were] a lot of cool airplanes. Mustangs, [P–40s], a real Zero, Hurricane, Spitfire. I just enjoyed all the performances.”
At the conclusion of the airshow, attendees were encouraged to stick around for a free (with admission) concert from country music star Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry. The concert, which took place in a grassy amphitheater nestled among museum hangars, attracted thousands of country music fans who lined up in rows of lawn chairs or blankets on the grass. Montgomery thanked veterans between songs, thanked the airshow crowd for coming out, and managed to not get blown off stage by the 30-mph gusts.
After an encore from Montgomery, attendees made their way back to the flight line to mark their spot for a night airshow performance by Matt Younkin of Younkin Airshows. The performance, sponsored by the Fagen Fighters Restoration team, was concluded with a “Wall of Fire” display from the Tora Tora Tora Airshows pyrotechnics team.
“It was just such a fun show,” said Sam Walsh, a second-time volunteer. “And what the Fagen family does for aviation is just incredible. Not only is it a huge win for the aviation community, but it’s a win for this small-town community too.”