Confederate Air Force AIRSHO at Midland, 2001
"Keep 'em flying" is the motto of the Confederate Air Force, and each October the owners, pilots and crews of WWII Warbirds gather in Midland, Texas, to do just that. Before September 11th, AIRSHO had already scheduled a recognition of Pearl Harbor survivors. After September 11th, CAF decided to "honor those who have lost their lives not only in service to this country, but also victims of this recent attack, and the brave Americans — soldiers, firefighters, policemen, medical personnel and volunteers — who work tirelessly to protect and care for others."
This year, 95 airplanes converged on Midland, Texas, from all directions to take part in the world's largest unrehearsed airshow. Not that each pilot hasn't logged a lot of time in type and a lot of practice flying formation: they have. They just have never done it all together. In past years, the smaller show on Friday afternoon gave pilots a chance to get comfortable. This year a cold front blew in from Canada about mid-morning on Friday and low ceilings and high winds grounded the fleet for the day.
So on Saturday morning at 0900, the pilots met in the High Sky Cafe to get a thorough briefing from AIRSHO Boss Ralph Royce. About an hour later, Royce had reviewed the procedures and times for startup, taxi, takeoff, holding, routes and altitudes for flying the show, recovery (landing after the show), and had assigned flight leaders for different categories (trainers, fighters, bombers, cargo, etc..). For that hour, it's Royce's room. Peer pressure alone is usually enough to keep pilots' attention, but Royce has a light-hearted "dunce chair" at the front of the room to keep heads in the game. Latecomers (See image of Kermit Weeks below) and chatterboxes earn time in "the chair," but this year the Boss gave himself a few minutes there after he caught himself in an "oops."
Calling the show is tough enough, but Royce also has to keep an eye on scheduled air carrier traffic in and out of MAF. He's a pro. The only thing that didn't run like a Swiss watch on Saturday was a 30-minute delay when one of the USAF Thunderbirds had to switch to the two-seat media plane to fly the show.
By the end of the briefing, the skies had cleared and Saturday was a drop-dead gorgeous day with light winds. Attendance figures hadn't been totaled by AVweb's deadline, but it's safe to say that more than 25,000 people attended the show.
AIRSHO 2001 also gave CAF a chance to hold its general membership meeting at 1500 on Friday. Members heard from retiring CAF Chief of Staff Ray Kinney, CAF "Spirit of Flight" Award winner Waggoner Carr, and voted on new Board members and CAF's new name, which will be announced on December 7th, 2001. AIRSHO's Friday night Black Tie event at the Midland center honored eight heroes of WWII: President George H. W. Bush, Col. Clarence "Bud" Anderson, Cmdr. Harold Buell, ATC Wayne Colley, Lt. Gen. Keith Compton, Lt. "Hap" Halloran, Col. Ralph Parr, Lt. Gen. Jay T. Robbins (posthumously), and the 19th Bomb Group. The event, coupled with a silent auction, was a sellout.
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Kermit Weeks gets some time in the chair for being late