County Airport Puts Historic War-Worn Airplanes On Display

The cockpit of the “Memphis Belle” B-17. Photo by Daryl Simons Jr.

From the B-17 Flying Fortress “Memphis Belle,” to the Vultee BT-13 Valiant, and a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, World War II classic war planes were on display for tour at the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown. The tours were from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will continue today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a flight of the B-17 scheduled for at 11 a.m..

“The history of these airplanes is very important. Which is one of the reasons why we restore and fly them. It’s so the people can see, touch, hear, and smell those airplanes that represented the ‘Greatest Generation’,” said the operator of the B-17, Austin Wadsworth.

The National Warplane Museum based out of Geneseo, flew in the old, but heavily-restored airplanes from the WWII era. They are the primary operators of the B-17. The means in which they were acquired were somewhat varied.

“It’s a WWII heavy bomber, built in 1945. This one never saw combat, but it was one of the stars of the movie ‘Memphis Belle’ that came out in 1991. It’s also just a joy to fly,” Wadsworth said. The “Memphis Belle” is one of the most popular aircraft from the WWII fleet, with it being featured in two feature films, and a popular choice among model-airplane enthusiasts.

Seats in the B-17 range from the bombardier, navigator, or engineer station, to seating in the crew station. This aircraft is an 8-seater, a four-engined heavy bomber equipped with waist gunners, a ball turret, a tail gunner, and a bay for bomb racks.

Jamestown Airport

Wadsworth added, “The ‘Memphis Belle’ was rescued from the fire service by Dave Tallichet. He was a collector, and saved about 200 airplanes, dragging them out from the jungle. And this was one of his acquisitions.”

For true warplane enthusiasts, there was a great opportunity to fly one of these historic creations also known as excursion flights. Thom F. Richard brought in the P-40 Warhawk, and was offering it up for people who wanted to experience what it’s like flying an old WWII fighter plane.

“This is a flying national treasure. A piece of history with pedigree that is unparalleled and very difficult to duplicate,” Richard said. He then talked a bit on the history of this plane, and of its original pilot.

“This particular airplane has two confirmed kills, which is highly unusual, as most of those were scrapped in place and never brought back after the war. This plane was built in Buffalo, and is the first time that it has been this close to its place of birth since it was shipped out in 1943. It was sent directly to the 49th Fighter Group in New Guinea, U.S. Army Air Corps,” Richard said.

He added, “It was flown by Lt. 1st Lt. Joel D. Thorvaldson. On Sept. 13, 1943. He shot down a Zero Fighter, a Betty Bomber, and a third probable kill, but (it was) unconfirmed. Then his plane took a round to the belly of the engine, so he was forced to land into a field next to a river. One of his buddies tossed a life raft to him, and he floated down the river for five days, evading enemy capture, through enemy territory, before he was picked up by the Australians. Thorvaldson went on to became the Brigadier General in the USAF.”

Regarding the recovery of the plane itself, local Indian tribes had been aware of the airplane. An Australian Recovery crew later picked it up in the 1990s, taking more than 10 years and millions of dollars to restore. It was shipped back to the U.S. in 2014.

Most war planes today are privately owned, unless they are at a museum. Because of the enormous costs aligned with maintaining old airplanes, the only way to properly cover these costs, Richard said, is “by offering them out to the public, by display, tours, flights, instruction, or air shows… We are a WWII Fight or Flight School. One of only two schools in the country that operate the P-40.”

Midway through the afternoon, another pilot flew in from Florida. He had started his trip at 10 a.m., arriving around 2 p.m. His plane was titled “Mad Max,” as it was painted in large, bold, letters along the sides of the front end of the aircraft. Immediately after landing, many of the members associated with the museum recognized the pilot, warmly welcoming his arrival.

“We have an air show coming up on the 13th and 14th of July in Geneseo. It’s the greatest show on turf. We will have a lot of war birds down there. We will also be selling rides during the air show,” Peter Treichler said.

For more information, go to nationalwarplane.com, or on Facebook at National Warplane Museum – Geneseo Air show.