Air show saluting veterans
PUNTA GORDA — On April 18, 1942, 16 medium bombers slowly lifted off the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and headed for Japan.
Led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, their mission was to bomb military targets and to demonstrate to the world that Japan was vulnerable from the air. It also provided a much-needed boost to American morale early in the war, just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The aircraft that performed so magnificently in that historic air strike was the Mitchell B-25 Bomber, perhaps the most famous twin-engine medium bomber used during World War II.
This weekend at the 33rd annual Florida International Air Show at Punta Gorda Airport, visitors can view an authentic B-25 Mitchell Bomber. Sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans, the aircraft is being displayed at air shows nationwide by the DAV Flight Team of Lynn May and Mike Jones, a married couple from Indiana.
The couple travel the U.S. in their 36-foot trailer as part of the DAV outreach program explaining the mission of the organization and trying to talk to as many veterans as possible.
“Our trailer will have television sets outside showing videos that explain what the DAV is all about and the services they provide,” May said. “We will have kiosks set up, hand out free models of a B-25, and people can walk around the plane as well. It’s a great educational opportunity for the kids, too.”
Named the Panchito after the spirited rooster featured in the 1945 Walt Disney animated film “The Three Caballeros,” the B-25J being exhibited at the air show did not fly in the famed Doolittle raid. She did serve in the Central Pacific with the 396th Bomb Squadron, 41st Bomb Group, 7th Air Force, participating in attacks on Japan and enemy installations in Eastern China until war’s end.
The DAV believes the B-25 Mitchell Bomber and its mission are one and the same — “reminding people of the sacrifices veterans make for freedom,” DAV national commander Larry A. Polzin said.
“We believe the men, women and children who will visit this air show are the patriotic, military-friendly citizens that have helped make this nation so great,” he added.
In keeping with the theme of the show, many of the aircraft and performances will be military in nature. The U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa will jump from a height of 12,500 feet, free falling for about two miles, while traveling at a speed of 120 mph As the jumpers are falling, they will create a formation that they will break at 4,000 feet before landing with “precision accuracy in the landing area.”
A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier, a vertical/short takeoff and landing fighter that the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf called “one of the seven most important weapons of the Gulf War,” will be at the show.
A U.S. Navy SB2C Helldiver, U.S. Air Force Spooky AC-47 gunship, OV-1 Mohawk observation plane, the U.S. Navy C-1A, the only flying carrier that remains operational today, and a North American Aviation T-28 Trojan, a training aircraft used in the 1950s by the Navy and Air Force, are just a few of the aircraft that will be displayed as well.
“This year’s show is truly a tribute to veterans,” said Bob Hall, air boss for the Air Show. “We have an exciting list of performers that will entertain visitors. We will have bombs and pyrotechnics all used in a dramatic fashion.”