By Larry W. Bledsoe
What makes an air show great? Is it the planes, the location, the people, the vendors—or all of these? The annual Planes of Fame Airshow at Chino, Calif., is rich in history and is the top warbird air show on the West Coast. Only at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh or the Commemorative Air Force’s AIRSHO in Midland, Texas, will you find more warbirds where they belong—in the air.
For more than four decades, Chino Airport has been a major warbird aircraft restoration center. Today it’s the home of two first class warbird museums, Planes of Fame and Yanks Air Museum. Another major aircraft restoration facility that remains on the field is Carl Scholl’s Aero Trader.
The air show, held this year May 20-21, had plenty of warbirds from WWI aircraft to today’s frontline fighters, F16 Vipers and F-18 Hornets, in addition to the numerous Mustangs, Hellcats and other WWII vintage aircraft. You get to see these planes up close, and for the true aircraft buff, you also get the sights and sounds as they make numerous flybys.
Before the show, the audience was treated to some warm-up flybys by several aircraft, including a formation of four L-19 liaison planes and a couple of Mustangs. As the National anthem was being sung, the audience witnessed a formation flyby with a P-26 Peashooter in the lead, a P-51 on its left wing and a Seversky AT-12 on the other. A North American F-86 Sabre filled in the fourth position.
As the Peashooter and the AT-12 made several passes, flying on a circuit below them was a red Fokker Dr.1 triplane and a Sopwith Camel. Both planes made slow passes, with the steady pop of the triplane’s throttled-back engine in contrast to the intermittent silence of the Camel’s engine whenever the pilot hit the interrupt button to slow the plane down.
The only flying Grumman F3F, the Navy’s last shipboard biplane fighter prior to WWII, soon joined the steady flyby. A gaggle of World War II aircraft—Mustangs, Wildcats, Hellcats and a Japanese Zero—followed these planes. This flight of 10 or more planes included the sleek F7F Tigercat in Marine Corps paint scheme of that era.
In addition to the numerous Mustangs, which included a rare “A” model, a Spitfire Mk.IX, a Sea Fury, P47s, a P-40, a P-63, F4F Wildcats, F6F Hellcats, F8F Bearcats and F4U Corsairs all would fly sometime during the show. Also displayed at the show were a couple of B-25s and a B-17. Among the most unusual aircraft were the Northrop N9MB flying wing and a Bell P-59 Airacomet. The P-59, America’s first jet fighter aircraft, is in the process of being restored to flying condition. Another rare jet was a beautiful red Folland Gnat.
The Inland Empire Wing of the CAF had three aircraft on hand, an L-4 (the military version of the Piper Cub), a Ryan PT-22 trainer and a newly restored C-53 (the paratrooper version of the DC-3). The C-53 was at its first air show away from its home base after four years of restoration.
Antique and classic cars in primo condition were on display. There was also a sizable contingency from the California Historical Group in World War II U.S., British, German and Russian uniforms eagerly ready to share with any listener information about the equipment and weapons of that period that they had on display.
Vendors sold items including hats, pins and T-shirts. The Planes of Fame booth had two authors signing copies of their books, “Adventures of a P-38 Ace,” by Col. Herbert E. Ross, and “An Innocent at Polebrook, a Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier,” by Charles N. Stevens. Artists in attendance included Lonnie Ortega and Chris Rios, as well as Terri Polley and her twin sister Jerri Bergen, who do nose art on jackets, planes, walls and hunks of metal.
This annual show is not the oldest but is probably the longest running air show in Southern California. So why is it so successful? As one veteran vendor put it, “People know this is a pure aircraft show with lots of flying.”