Elkhart Warbird Gathering Weekend 2013
Elkhart, Indiana again played host to the The Warbird Gathering Weekend. Generally this town plays host to much slower, not to mention larger, aircraft as it is the preferred staging area for airships traveling East and West especially for Notre Dame and Chicago Bears football games. But lately the municipal airport has welcomed vintage aircraft to its airstrip. This year’s theme featured Mike Gillian’s Wildcat and the 75th anniversary of the North American T-6 Texan.
The first time I had ever been to a Warbirds gathering was a few years ago when I was driving past the airport and saw a banner on the fence surrounding the airport. I love airplanes and as a photographer I could not pass up an opportunity to photograph such magnificent machines. I went home, got my camera gear and went back to the airport where I spoke to one of the event personnel there who noticed all the gear I was wearing and either felt sorry for me or understood that I was serious about getting photographs of the planes. For the rest of the day he escorted me around and that allowed me to get up close to the planes and out on the tarmac to get some great images. After that day, I was hooked.
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, flying war machines from an era since gone by, started arriving at the airport. Being that we are in Notre Dame territory I could not resist borrowing the opening from 1924 article “The Four Horsemen” by Grantland Rice. It was befitting as it was October, and the skies were blue-gray, and turning a much darker gray as the morning went on. As I drove to the airport, I was worried that I would find a sign on the gate saying: “Event closed due to inclement weather.” But to my relief I saw planes in the sky and on the ground. Great, I thought, we are going to have a show. The show did go on, but with only about half as many planes as they had planned for, the other half were grounded due to bad weather at their local airports.
The day started with the pilots flying in and being treated to a fine breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes, and a lot of hot coffee. After breakfast, the pilots and crew went for the morning briefing where they were given all of their information and schedules. First on the list was formation flying. The pilots put together their teams of planes and everyone went out and started their vintage aircraft. By this time the crowd was beginning to grow, they all seemed very interested in the planes and when they all started up the crowd definitely became more lively. The crowd seemed an even mix of veterans and families with children. They enjoyed watching the planes taxi and then take off and fly around the airport in formation, then peeling off one by one and landing. By the time all the teams had made their rounds, it was lunchtime and all the pilots and crew headed to one of the hangars where a large buffet style lunch was being served.
While the pilots and crew were eating, many of the spectators also ate, it seemed to me that almost everyone in attendance had brought a picnic lunch to eat. It was fun watching all the small children, sitting on the ground, eating sandwiches and hamburgers that seemed far too big for them and yet they seemed to have more than enough room and finished every last bite.
After lunch it was time for the aerial demonstrations and then to the crowd’s favorite, flour bombing, which I think was probably also some, if not all, of the pilots favorite as well. The crowd enjoyed not only the planes but also some vintage land war machines as well. Along with a few jeeps that made their way to the event, two half-track trucks were there also, complete with working machine guns and period attired soldiers. I say “working machine guns” in that they were pneumatic and did rapid fire with a very loud bang-bang-bang. Luckily I had been photographing a drag racing event earlier in the month and still had some of my earplugs in my bag, so I was able to get some up close shots of them shooting.
When it came time for the aerial bombings, the crowd was ready for it even though the skies were looking ominous at this point. As the Warbird’s crew laid out a large orange “X” on the middle of the field between the runways I positioned myself so that I could catch them throwing out their five pound bags of flour at the target. As each plan made their passes over the target someone in the plane would drop their payloads out. Most were not even close to the target, but the crowd did not mind, when they saw the white billows of flour come up from the ground. You would have thought they were cheering a direct hit. One plane seemed to make a “carpet bombing run” as they dropped about seven of their flour bombs before turning and making a landing. All of us out in the field thought it odd that all the plans were starting to land as all of them still had several passes to make. Then we looked to the West and saw why; a wall of rain was coming our way. We all jumped in the back of the nearest pickup and headed for the nearest hangar which we almost reached without getting wet. Almost. The day had ended, at least for flying, the festivities continued into the evening as the pilots had their awards banquet at a local country club.
Michael J. Mitchell
You can contact the author Michael J. Mitchell at Michael@DigitalMitchell.Com