By Victor G. Archer
Shafter-Minter Field Airport (MIT), located in Shafter, Calif., hosted its Warbirds in Action Air Show on April 19. The show got off to a patriotic start with an ROTC color guard presentation and the national anthem. Right on cue, as the anthem finished, veteran pilots Eddie Van Fossen and Al Goss made a formation pass down the center of the field in their North American T-6/SNJ aircraft.
Van Fossen and Goss are two of the most recognizable names at the Reno National Championship Air Races. Van Fossen, piloting Miss TNT, has won the T-6 Class Gold Race seven times and Goss, flying Warlock, has been racing at Reno for 27 consecutive years.
Rob Harrison, “The Tumbling Bear,” flew his bright yellow Zlin 50LX as the first of the regular performers. After watching Harrison flipping and tumbling his airplane through the air, it’s easy to see how he got his nickname. Besides being an outstanding aerobatic pilot, Harrison has a certificate in flight test engineering and is an aerobatic competency examiner and a licensed attorney. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. He also attended the U.S. Navy’s test pilot school.
Next, for a reenactment of the Doolittle Raiders, two North American B-25 Mitchells took to the air for some formation flying. George Hulett, flying Mike Pupich’s B-25N, Heavenly Body, flew in the lead position; John Garlinger flew the American Aeronautical Foundation’s B-25, Executive Sweet, on the wing. The two B-25s made several mock bombing run demonstrations, both low- and high-level attacks as well as high-speed passes. The sound of four large radial engines roaring over the field was a treat for the crowd.
The Thunder Delfins L-29 jet demonstration team flew a four-plane formation display along with solo passes. This unique group is one of a very few civilian jet teams performing within the U.S.
Following the Thunder Delfins, several groups of WWII training aircraft went up, including four BT-13 Valiants. Lloyd Tincher flew a plane painted in the original markings of the Army Air Corps at Minter Field. Another one of the BT-13s, piloted by Ken Bohrman, had been based at Minter during the war. Following the BT-13s was a T-34 Mentor and an Australian-built CAC CA-25 Winjeel. The next group of trainers was a group of North American T-6/SNJ Texans; four flew in formation while one made a few single passes.
Dan Buchanan and his Flying Colors hang glider went up at the same time as Rob Harrison in his Zlin 50LX, creating a comedic traffic jam in the sky. Buchanan is a true inspiration to anyone with a physical disablilty. While he was hang gliding over mountains in 1981, a crash landing paralyzed both of his legs. Amazingly, he returned to flying within six months and since then has accrued more than 2,800 hours of flight time.
The Commemorative Air Force’s Southern California Wing put on a mock WWII dogfight, featuring a Japanese-built Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero flown by Jason Somes and a U.S. Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat piloted by Steve Barber. Somes initially chased the Hellcat, but then overshot Barber, allowing the Hellcat to get on his tail.
Next came the heavy metal. This is what people come to Minter to see—WWII fighters. First up, a four-ship formation, led by Ellsworth Getchel in his Centaurus-powered Hawker Sea Fury, followed closely by Dan Martin in his P-51D Mustang, RidgeRunner III, and Mike McKinney in another P-51D, Little Sandra. Following the two Mustangs was Dr. Kent Carlomagno in his P&W powered, race-modified Yak-11. Following in trail was Terry Tarditi in his P-51, Comfortably Numb, and Steve Coutches flying a highly polished P-51D, once used by NACA as a chase plane. Chuck Wentworth, in his Goodyear-built FG-1 D Corsair, followed these two Mustangs.
After the impressive group of fighters landed, five T-28 Trojans took off, and then made fast passes on the field before departing for home.
The B-25, Executive Sweet, went up again, this time joined by former Reno race pilot John Putnam flying Wiley Sander’s Howard 500-converted Lockheed L-18 Lodestar.
Closing the show, another well-known Reno race pilot, Bill “Tiger” Destefani, made a number of high-speed passes in his highly modified racing Mustang, Strega. A veteran race pilot, Destefani has won the prestigious Reno Unlimited Gold Race six times as well as two unlimited gold wins in Denver and one other in Kansas. Destefani was followed by test pilot Robert Childress flying Robert Stambovsky’s British Jet Provost Mk 5.
A ramp full of aircraft included a Beech Staggerwing, a de Havilland Beaver, an L-2 and L-5 and a bright yellow ex-Air Spray fire tanker A-26C Invader owned by Wade Eagleton. There were seven P-51 Mustangs, including Ted Contri’s Rosalie and Kendall Wagner’s Lady Alice, joined by T-28s, BT-13s, T-6/SNJs, B-25s and more. Also, several helicopters on display included a UH-60A Blackhawk, a Bell UH-1H painted to look like a Soviet Hind helicopter, a firefighting UH-1 from Kern County and a sheriff’s OH-58.
Minter Field, constructed under the Defense Landing Area Program for the U.S. Army as a flight-training center, opened in 1941. Originally known as Bakersfield Air Corps Flying School (Lerdo Field), it offered pre-flight and basic flight training. The principal training aircraft was the Consolidated Vultee BT-13 Valiant, affectionately known as the “Vultee Vibrator,” powered by a 450-hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp R985 nine-cylinder radial. The aircraft had fixed gear and Hamilton-Standard two speed props. Other training aircraft included the Cessna UC-78 Bobcat, also known as the “Bamboo Bomber” because of its extensive use of lightweight wood in the fuselage and wings. The Cessna was a twin-engine light personnel transport and advanced trainer. Aircraft also seen on the field during WWII included the AT-6 Texan trainer, B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bomber and P-38 Lightning, as well as other widely used fighter, bomber and observation craft. It was a city within itself, having served more than 7,000 personnel and more than 11,000 Army Air Corps cadets who graduated there. Cadets from Minter were deployed around the world, flying in all theaters of operations during WWII.
Today Minter Field is base for many vintage aircraft, including Stearmans, Ryans, Stinsons, North American AT-6s, a Harvard and a P-51 Mustang. The airfield is the home of Strega, Miss TNT and Warlock, owned by Al Goss. The field is known for many companies that specialize in restoration of warbirds and antique aircraft and is also home base for several agricultural/crop-dusting companies.
For more information on Minter Field and its museum, visit [http://www.minterfieldairmuseum.com].