Saturday, October 1, 2016

World War I flights to be re-enacted at Air Force Museum this weekend

Don Popp, left, photographs the engine and propeller of a 7/8 scale replica of a WW I era Nieuport 23 as FAA representative Terry Taylor inspects the biplane at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Friday. This airplane is one of many participating in the WW I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous this weekend at the museum. 

Todd Palmer, left, and pilot/owner John Crisp, right, prepare to attach a wing to CRisps’ 3/4 scale Fokker Dr-1 triplane at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Friday. This airplane is one of many participating in the WW I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous this weekend at the museum.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — A century ago, men in fabric and wooden biplanes flew at each other in twisting aerial combat in the skies over Europe in World War I.

On the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the Great War, aviators will re-enact those battles this weekend at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in the World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous.

Aerial warfare—from reconnaissance to bombing targets to dog fights between pilots and planes – were first flown over battlefields in Europe.

“To our modern eyes, these airplanes look slow and fragile, but in their own time, these were marvels,” said Doug Lantry, museum historian. “They were regarded as extremely fast, maneuverable, powerful and they caught the public’s imagination. This was a glamorous thing to fly.”

Weather permitting, the planes will fly Saturday and Sunday, organizers said. Radio controlled planes and guest speakers also are part of the bi-annual event. Re-enactors in military uniforms will mill around tent encampments and early 20th century vehicles along with smaller versions of the original biplanes. Fourteen of the planes — mostly smaller versions of American, French, British and German original aircraft — are poised to take-off.

“The growth of military aviation during the war was extremely rapid and the years following the war are usually called the golden age of aviation,” Lantry said. “The technology and the techniques and tools that were developed during the war really set the stage for aviation for the rest of the century.”

Steve Guenard flew Air Force fighter jets and commercial airliners but traded those for a World War I-era Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane, the same kind his great uncle learned to fly and that trained the likes of aviation legends Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

“It’s an airplane that demands that the pilot fly it all the time,” said Guenard, 68, of Park City, Utah. “You can’t let go of the controls and have it fly itself for a while. … There’s a learning curve for what I would call a modern pilot to go back to something like this and learn how to fly it.”

Flown by the aviation history group Friends of Jenny, the reconstructed beige biplane with a wooden propeller is based in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“It’s old and it’s big,” said pilot Dorian Walker, 70, who lives in Kentucky.

Many Americans in the early 20th century saw the plane in barnstormer performances, noted ground crew member Jon Foote, 55, of Winchester, Tenn..

“This is what brought aviation to the American people,” he said.

The Jenny is one of seven still flying, the rest are in museums, Walker noted.

“But here you can come to Wright Field and if the weather is good look up and see what it was like a hundred years ago to see this airplane which is the great grandfather of all aviation,” the Army veteran said. “All of the things that were pioneered on this airplane are being used still today.

“A lot of us are veterans and we just feel this is a story
that doesn’t need to be forgotten and the best way not to forget is to see it and start asking questions,” he said.

The free event is accessible through the Spinning Road gate at the intersection of Airway and Spinning roads or through the main museum entrance along Springfield Street and following signs to the area. For more information and a schedule of events, log onto the museum’s website at

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