Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To Honor & Inspire


A rural Nebraska town gets an unexpected visit from the Texas Flying Legends


I knew I was in for a special treat when I received Doug Rozendaal's message: "Have I got a deal for you… call me!" Rozendaal is an accomplished pilot who flies everything from B-25 bombers to Citation bizjets, performs low-level aerobatics in P-51 Mustangs and spearheaded the CAF Red Tail Squadron. He's always up to something interesting. I called back as soon as possible. "Would you like to fly by Mount Rushmore in a formation of eight warbirds?" he asked. "A B-25, TBM Avenger, Corsair, P-40, Wildcat...," before he finished the list, I had already packed my bags and booked my airline ticket, "…two P-51 Mustangs and an authentic Zero?"

Ellington Field, in the greater Houston area, is home to the Texas Flying Legends Museum (www.texasflyinglegends.org). With an immaculate collection of flying warbirds, the museum is dedicated to honoring war veterans and inspiring the next generation of pilots. To share this sentiment with as many as possible, each spring the fleet journeys to Minot, N.D. The Dakota Territory Air Museum showcases the collection until it heads to EAA AirVenture, taking center stage on the warbird ramp. Late summer, some of the aircraft will continue to Wiscasset, Maine, to perform at local air shows.

This year, a special stop was planned in Colorado Springs for the USAF Academy graduation. To support the class of 2013, the Texas Flying Legends would do a fly-by during the ceremonies, in place of the Thunderbirds, who were grounded for sequestration. The formation of eight warbirds would cross overhead at the exact moment of the graduates' hat toss.

I met the group on the ramp at KCOS for the leg to Rapid City, S.D. Through the waist gunner's window in Betty's Dream, I could see a crowd had gathered to watch our departure. They snapped photos and waved enthusiastically. This became a theme throughout the trip as it seemed fans and onlookers would materialize everywhere the warbird entourage went—even the most unexpected of places.


Nine mighty engines roared in harmony as we lifted off and headed north. We leveled at 9,500 feet as the late May skies darkened with the threat of stormy weather. The B-25 offers unusual vantage points for air-to-air photography, and in spite of the bumps and foul conditions, the all-star team of talented pilots enabled us to capture the fleet en route. Chief pilot Warren Pietsch positioned the Zero directly below the bomber, flown by Alan Miller, and we shot it through the Plexiglas on the fuselage floor. Later, I wriggled over a huge pile of baggage and gear to twist my body into the tailgunner seat. From the very rear of the bomber, I could shoot directly back as our wingmen took turns flying at our six o'clock position.



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