Sounds, Sights And Moving Shadows As Thanks To Exiting Heroes

aircraft overview
Credit: Tony Granata/ICAS

Don’t let the snow and ice and freezing temperatures fool you; it’s that time of the year. Again. The performers and maintainers are making their way to their hangars with fresh oil and clean rags, touch-up paint and polish, ready for run-ups and radio checks. The curtain is about to rise on Air Show Season 2020.

According to the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), the U.S. gatherings begin with the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association’s Stars & Stripes Air Show in Laredo, Texas, on Feb. 16, featuring a full array of warplanes past and present, along with aerobats, sky divers and sunburns. The ICAS calendar lists over 170 shows through November, some multiday events, mostly in the U.S. and Canada with a few international venues. As you might expect, California claims the most with 23; Texas and Florida follow with 14 and 13, respectively. The balance range from Maine to Arizona—even Rhode Island is a host: The National Guard Open House and Air Show is set for June 20-21 in North Kingstown.

  • 1,100+ warplanes
  • 1,100-min. flyover

However, notably absent from the list is an air event in which ICAS is intimately involved. And while it might not meet the criteria typically attached to an air show, it’s going to turn a lot of faces skyward and will likely be the last of its kind.

The Arsenal of Democracy Flyover is to take place in Washington on Friday, May 8, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe—VE Day. That’s the date Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally, and the artillery, machine guns, bombs and missiles of World War II were finally silenced on the blood-soaked continent where that most terrible conflict began. The flyover is intended as a very visible, audible and physical salute to the servicemen and women whose courage, smarts and determination defeated the enemy, and to honor those on the home front whose work and sacrifice provided the tools for them to prevail.

Long in planning, the flyover is expected to involve nearly every type of training plane, fighter, bomber and transport used by the Allies in the war, some 100+ aircraft in all, many of them rarely seen. They will include Spitfires, Hurricanes, an Avro Lancaster, Airacobra, Douglas A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader, de Havilland Mosquitos, Westland Lysander, five Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, a pair of Boeing B-29 SuperForts, plus a brace of F4U Corsairs and a squadron of P-51s. If all goes according to plan, the D-Day invasion will be commemorated by a flight of five C-47s, four of which actually participated in the invasion of France in June 1944.

Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and a leader in the flyover program, said, “We can’t parade tanks down Constitution Avenue nor float ships in the Tidal Basin, but through incredible coordination with a myriad of federal agencies, we are being allowed to parade World War II aircraft through the most restrictive airspace in our nation to honor the greatest generation that secured for the world the freedoms we cherish today.”

The program will launch aircraft from general aviation airports in Manassas and Culpeper, Virginia, proceeding in echelons at different altitudes south along the Potomac River, turning left at the Lincoln Memorial, flying past the World War II Memorial and east along the Mall, and then exiting to the right past the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the new Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which is being dedicated that day. All the aircraft are to fly at an altitude slightly above 1,000 ft. and progress at 169 kt. From start to finish, the flyby is expected to take 100 min.

Operations at nearby Reagan National Airport will be halted for 2 hr. to accommodate the aerial parade.

According to ICAS President John Cudahy, many aircraft will carry dignitaries, foremost among them veterans of the war. One honorary leader is former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a wounded veteran of that conflict, and his wife Elizabeth, and Linda Hope, representing the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, which helped finance the effort. “Nobody is making a dime” from the flyover, Bunce says; contributions, which are most welcome, will be used to cover the cost of aircraft fuel and oil.

While guesstimates of spectators range from 100,000 to 200,000, organizers note that the flyover is likely to be the last gathering of significant numbers of war veterans as time diminishes that corps steadily and rapidly. The flyover “is the last chance to bring the nation together with a large contingent of the last remaining veterans of that conflict to pay tribute to their service and sacrifice,” says Bruce.

Other participating organizations include the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Commemorative Air Force.

William Garvey

Bill was Editor-in-Chief of Business & Commercial Aviation from 2000 to 2020. During his stewardship, the monthly magazine received scores of awards for editorial excellence.


Wow. That would be something to see. I've marked it on my calendar.

Thanx Bill for letting us know!