Vintage military aircraft ranging from World War I-era replicas to fighters that have flown missions during World War II were on display Saturday at the Commemorative Air Force’s Great Plains Wing Fly-In & Drive-In Open House.
Wing Leader George DeWitt said the event was one of the organization’s most popular to date, with more than 400 attendees stopping by to observe the piloted planes in action. Some of the visitors flew their own aircraft to the Council Bluffs Municipal Airport to take part in the event.
Those not content with viewing the craft on the tarmac had the opportunity to fly in some of the vintage planes, including a Stearman biplane, an A-26 bomber and the Great Plains Wing’s signature exhibit, a P-51D Mustang, nicknamed “Gunfighter." Mustangs were a powerful addition to the Allied Forces air support during World War II and Gunfighter is the wing’s top attraction.
The Mustang, a versatile pursuit and fighter jet, is a labor of love for the Great Plains Wing, and DeWitt said keeping it restored and ready to fly is a responsibility the local chapter of the national organization takes seriously. It was also one of a handful of planes available to ride Saturday for a fee. DeWitt was pleased with lines of people excited to fly in the bygone aircraft.
“It’s important to preserve this part of military history,” DeWitt said. “It’s great to see everyone out here enjoying themselves and maybe learning a little about aviation.”
One of the pilots at Saturday’s event, Joe Ebacher of Omaha, displayed the Douglas A-26 B Invader. The plane is based in CAF’s Enid, Oklahoma Wing, the Lady Liberty Squadron. “Lady Liberty” is the World War II bomber’s nickname. Ebacher, like most CAF members is an aviation enthusiast, but he has a deeper connection to his plane than many of the group’s pilots: his step-father flew the same type of craft during his service in World War II.
“My stepdad was a World War II fighter pilot and he was also an instructor pilot,” Ebacher said. “He flew the A-26 from ’44 until ’49 in the air force training command. I attached myself to the Lady Liberty group because of my step-dad.”
The machine has a 70-foot wingspan, and could carry thousands of pounds of bombs, in addition to its gun turrets.
“This is an actual war vet here,” Ebacher said of Lady Liberty. “It flew in the Ninth Air Force’s 409th Bomb Group in Europe. It saw action from September of ’44 to May or June of ’45. Then it went to the civilian market, where it became a test bed for Texas Instruments. It was a fire bomber — all kinds of stuff. Then, the Commemorative Air Force got it in ’81.”
Ebacher has been involved in the flight and care of Lady Liberty for five years.
DeWitt said the personal stories that draw people like Ebacher to the CAF aren’t uncommon.
“About half of our members have served (in the military),” DeWitt said. “The other half just has a passion for aviation and military history.”
The family-friendly event drew people from all over the area.