Friday, May 8, 2015

The Flyover

Today between noon and one, a series of flights of American WW II aircraft flew over the National Mall. About forty of us were on the terrace of the building where I work to watch, and we could see crowds on top of other office buildings in view. It was well to have an aviator's eyesight or a pair of binoculars; I had the latter.

The difficulty of identifying the airplanes varied a good deal. Fork-tailed craft--the P-38, the B-25, the B-24--were simple. The P-51 with its air scoop and the F-4U with its gull wings were easy, as were the PBY Catalina, B-17, the B-29, and the C-47. The Navy's mainstays were harder, for the Navy favored small planes with radial engines, and the F4F Wildcat could hardly be distinguished from the TBM Avenger or the SB2C Helldiver, at least with my eyes, binoculars, and vague memories of pictures seen long ago. This is a little unfortunate, given how decisive the Battle of Midway was and how gallantly the Battle of Leyte Gulf was fought--both represented chiefly by those small planes.

I found myself, partway through, serving as narrator for my end of the terrace.
"The lead one is a C-47. That was the military version of the DC-3."
"It was the first really successful commercial airliner."
At the end a woman, probably about 30, asked how I knew what the planes were. I said that I was a baby boomer, and that when I grew up essentially everyone's dad had been in the war. (And for that matter a lot of  moms; two of my aunts were nurses in the military.) One heard the stories and read the books.

The Washington Post website has a video that gives a fair representation of what it was like to watch without binoculars.

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