By Victor G. Archer
On June 16 & 17, Air Group One, the San Diego wing of the Commemorative Air Force, presented the 13th Annual Wings Over Gillespie Air Show at Gillespie Field in El Cajon. This year’s theme honors the 50th anniversary of CAF.
Hundreds of people watched as the flying demonstrations began with a flight of four T-34 Mentors, led by Terry Brennan. They made formation flybys and then flew the missing man formation as a bugler played “Taps.”
After the opening ceremonies, visitors had time to look at aircraft on display. A unique aircraft was a 70-percent scale replica of a 1917 de Havilland DH-4 biplane, built and flown by 82-year-old Roy McCaldin. McCaldin’s no stranger to flying; he’s a decorated WorldWar II veteran who flew B-17s in the 8th Air Force.
Acrobatic pilot Craig “Brute” Teft performed a routine in his Pitts Special. He retired in May 2006 from a professional military career flying everything from F-4s to F-15s.
After Teft’s aerobatic display, McCaldin and his de Havilland took to the skies. Robert Simon, flying his EAA AirVenture award-winning 1943 Boeing N2S-3 Stearman biplane, joined McCaldin for a few flybys. Steve Ritzi also joined the group, with his 1975 Scottish Aviation Bulldog (Former RAF XX708), along with Ron Attig, flying his Vietnam-era Cessna L-19 Bird Dog.
John Collver’s aerobatic demonstration, in War Dog, was next. War Dog is a 1945 North American SNJ-5 advanced Navy trainer. Collver’s SNJ-5 uses a smoke system, so air show fans can follow actual maneuvers taught to U.S. fighter pilots during WWII. Collver dedicates his flying routine to American armed forces and veterans.
Next, two Douglas AD Skyraiders and a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog performed a Vietnam War aerial support demonstration. Guests watched as the two Skyraiders, so important to ground forces and downed pilots in Vietnam, dived from the sky, making bomb¬ing runs and strafing attacks complete with pyrotechnics. Rick Morrison, flying a camouflaged Skyraider, was proud to be a part of the show, because his father flew Skyraiders in Vietnam. He said it was an honor for him to fly a Skyraider on Father’s Day.
Bob Grondzik, better known as “Skyraider Bob,” piloted the other Skyraider. The veteran thrilled the crowd when he rolled the plane upside down and dove inverted on the field.
The Thunder Delphin team of Doug Gilliss, Elias Casillas, Don Goodin and Doug Medore, flying Aero Vodochody L-29 Delphin jets, made pyrotechnic bomb¬ing runs of their own. They also performed several formation flybys.
Chris Resling went up in CAF’s Grumman F6F Hellcat, along with Robert Forbes, piloting a Grumman TBM-3E Avenger. Both made several flybys over the field, and Forbes, with navigator and bombardier Bob Vanderveen, opened up the bomb bay doors on a couple of the passes.
Jason Somes showed guests why the Grumman F8F Bearcat holds the time-to-climb record for propeller-driven aircraft, with a maximum performance climb-out on takeoff. Somes made several high-speed passes and showed the awesome power of the Bearcat. A group of trainers—including a beautifully restored Fairchild PT-19, a T-6 Texan and a pair of T-34 Mentors—went up for some flybys.
The Condor Squadron, a group of North American T-6/SNJ aircraft based at Van Nuys Airport, performed flybys. One plane, painted as a German FW-190, has been seen in several movies. Somes and Resling quickly took to the sky, to go after the “enemy fighters.” The Condors made bombing runs on the field before the Grumman cats hunted them down.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection made passes over the field, with its ES-2 Tracker air tanker and OV-10 spotting plane. On Saturday, the show stopped for a moment, as the CDF left to help with a local fire.
Visitors saw about 50 aircraft, both flying and on static display. The air show had live entertainment throughout the two days, interviews with aces and veterans from WWII to the present, a large Kids Zone for younger visitors and free shaded seating for more than 400 people. More than two dozen food and merchandise vendors were on hand.
CAF has the largest collection of airworthy combat air¬craft, making it the world’s seventh largest air force. Its members number over 10,000 worldwide, composing 80 wings in 30 states and four countries. Its purpose is to acquire, maintain and op¬erate vintage military aircraft, ground vehicles and associ¬ated artifacts for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations.
CAF is a living, flying history lesson, giving tribute to America’s great military aviation heritage. It proudly displays some examples of the only flying aircraft of its type, such as the B-29 Su¬perfortress and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. For decades, scores of its aircraft have been used in movies, including the 2001 “Pearl Harbor.”
Steve Real, air show chairman, said the goal of CAF is to educate people about the importance of a strong military while honoring the present-day troops.