Flying FIFI at Tico 2012

TICO is the annual fundraising airshow for the Valiant Air Command down in Titusville, Florida.   The airport is literally in the shadows of the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida.  Since what seems like the beginning of warbird time TICO was the best show of its type in the country.  In the years that have passed, there has been much competition for the best show, but in Florida, it’s the best.  The Florida sun in the spring is something that’s hard to beat.

FIFI is getting back on the airshow circuit after being grounded for several years with engine problems.  Thanks to the generosity of Jim Cavanaugh, FIFI has new engines and the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron has moved its base to Addision, TX.   I first saw her back in the early 1980s in Kalamazoo Michigan at one of their first airshows.  She was still wearing the paint from the movie “The Right Stuff” and looked great.  Fast forward to Oshkosh about 3 years ago, I’m staying at the Super 8 in FonDuLac and also there is the B-24’s pilot Paul Stojkov, who also flies FIFI.  I talked to Paul a lot (probably more than he wanted) and learned a great deal about how the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron works.  To say the least, if you should ever own a B-29, Paul is the guy to entrust it to.   Good man and a heck of a pilot.

TICO managed to get FIFI  to be the main attraction of the event.  Crowds of people literately surrounded the airplane, many went for rides, which can be bought on site or in advance on the CAF website.  I didn’t fly on FIFI (I should have), but a group of us sent a good friend.

Everyone has their “airport buddies” and we have a group of “airshow buddies” who meet several times a year at airshows across the country.   We swap emails everyday.   Mike Rehbaum, Chris Heller, Chris Cosfol,  Steve Savino and James Cochran were in the original group and we adopted Mike’s father Karl Rehbaum to be with us.  Karl is an interesting guy.  He was a career Navy photographer and retired to FL, he’s a member of the VAC museum and often works the airshows marshalling (parking) aircraft.  Karl did a lot of deployments at sea on carriers, including one of the last TomCat Cruises.  He also shot many of the photos and video of the initial trials of the then “new” F-18 at Pax River.

Karl loves airplanes and flying; unfortunately, Karl also has cancer and the problems that go with that.   He’s been fighting it for long time and we’ve been supporting him on it.  I was the only one in the group (other than his son) who has met Karl in person.   We are all going to meet up in TICO and get together.  So I get an Email from Chris Cosfol one day out of the blue, that says “I want to buy Karl a ride in FIFI, want to split it?”  Sure, no problem,  pretty soon the cost was split several ways and the surprise was on.

Karl’s wife Sharon managed to get him there on time and to say he was surprised didn’t even begin to cover it.  He was overwhelmed that he got to go for that B-29 flight.  He couldn’t put it into words then and I can’t now.  The photos pretty well cover it, Karl is the man in the orange hat, and probably the most active he’s been in a long time.  After the ride, he sat down in a chair to watch the show.  He was supposed to help move planes, but was hurting too bad to get up.  We’ve chatted a few times since then, he’s still over whelmed about his experience.    It got Karl thinking.  He wonders now what it would have been like to be going out on the B-29 for a 10 hour mission instead of 30 minutes.   The crew, most under 21; with a pilot who may have been 23 or so, flying off to Japan to take the war to their homeland.   It really gets you thinking.

It’s hard to put a price on a memory.   The VAC allows us to all participate in an event that we are going to remember for a long time.  I live 900 miles away and have been a member of the VAC for 3 years.  It’s well worth it to help insure that they can continue operating in the future.  A flight in FIFI is cheap at any price and the memory will last a lifetime.  A day at the VAC Airshow is another memory too.   Wait for next spring and go, it’s well worth the trip.

I would like to thank, VAC Public Relations Officer Col. Terry Yon, CAF B-29 pilot Paul Stojkov, and the guys that got Karl his ride for this story; Chris Cosfol and Parr Yonemoto for the use of several pictures.   You can contact the author and photographer  Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.   The VAC is at www.VACWarbirds.org.  and the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron at www.CAFB29B24.org.

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Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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