Nothing in the world quite compares with the roar of a B-17. For occupied Europe, the thunderous engines echoed the sound of liberation. For the Germans, they were the harbingers of a falling Reich, as American airmen went about the systematic destruction of the Nazi war-making machine.
The Boeing Company, along with wartime partners Douglas and Lockheed (Vega), built a total of 12,731 B-17‘s between 1936-1945. Today, only a dozen of the celebrated bombers remain capable of flight.
This weekend, history buffs can not only hear those distinct Wright Cyclone engines but may also take a ride on the Yankee Lady, one of the few remaining operational B-17’s. The Yankee Lady will be joined by two dozen other warbirds in nearby Reading, Pennsylvania for the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s 23rd Annual World War II Weekend. Billed as the largest WWII event in the world, the show will feature demonstration flights of a number of iconic aircraft like the Boeing B-17, P-51 Mustang, Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless, Curtiss-Wright Helldiver and B-25 Mitchell. Also on hand will be Fifi, the last airworthy B-29 Superfortress.
Past shows have sported appearances by a B-24, Thunderbolts, Warhawks, a Navy Corsair, British Spitfires, and a North American T-6 Texan refitted to resemble a Japanese Zero. Surprise fly-ins could include one or more of these or other classic planes.
Brenda Saylor, the Office Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM), told the Baltimore Post-Examiner that an average of 20,000 visitors come to Reading for the three-day affair. Local law enforcement and the chamber of commerce are duly prepared for the friendly invasion.
For those with an itch to fly, seats are available by advanced reservation for rides aboard the Yankee Lady and Fifi and also on four other storied warplanes and on MAAM’s quartet of open cockpit trainers.
Along with the airshow, visitors will be treated to a full schedule of experiences on the ground, including:
- Self-guided tours of the MAAM Collection.
- A Friday morning parade of military vehicles from the museum to Reading and back where visitors can get a look at nearly 200 Allied and Axis modes of travel.
- Battle Re-Creations in which re-enactors will stage skirmishes in a mock French village.
- Debriefings by veterans and special guests, who will talk about their wartime experiences.
- Entertainment from the 1940s featuring songbirds the Manhattan Dolls, two big band dances and a live radio broadcast from the recreated studio of station WRDG.
- War Front Displays portraying life in the field for servicemen and women.
- Home Front Displays which will include a 1940s fashion show, street scenes and a look at life in wartime America.
Spectators will also be entertained by personality impressions of FDR; General Douglas MacArthur; General George S. Patton; P.T. 109 Capt. John F. Kennedy; and “Bud and Lou.”
Bud and Lou are portrayed by the Baltimore team of Bill Riley and Joe Ziegler. The duo, along with Jason Crutchley as Scoop Fields, present The Ultimate Abbot and Costello Show. Ziegler told the Baltimore Post-Examiner that the Reading event is one of his favorite shows.
“We’ve been doing the WWII Weekend for over 10 years now and it’s always an enjoyable time. The people at the museum work hard all year getting ready for this weekend.”
Ziegler allows that it can be grueling for the performers (he and his cohorts will be doing 17 shows this weekend), but he thoroughly loves the atmosphere and the interplay with audience members. Ziegler notes it is especially tough for the re-enactors when the weather is hot. Wool uniforms, steel helmets, and felt fedoras can be brutal in the heat. But he adds, “It really is a step back in time to the 1940’s. If you allow yourself, you can feel like you are actually there.”
The mood of the event is mostly festive, but Ziegler is mindful of the sacrifices so many made.
“One of the most moving aspects of the show is just watching the reactions of the aging veterans. It’s not unusual to see a veteran walk up to a jeep and just touch the fender – never saying a word – and then slowly walking away. I have also seen people well up when they hear a particular song or another vet’s war story.”
“Everybody should get to one of these events at least once in their lives. You come away with a different feeling about the country when you put yourself into somebody else’s shoes.”
“It’s humbling seeing what others lived through, just so we can live the way that we live today,” Ziegler said.
The 23rd Annual World War II Weekend runs from June 7-9 at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, 11 Museum Drive, Reading, Pa. 19605. More information about the museum may be found here or by calling the museum office at 610-372-7333. Information about reserving warbird plane rides may be found here.
(Please read our first-hand flying experience when the Baltimore Post-Examiner flew in the B-17 Memphis Belle.)
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”