Warbird Weekend, Arizona Style
As parts of this great nation were still under winter weather watches and warnings, with everything from snow flurries to all-out blizzard conditions, the weather in Arizona at the same time was just the opposite. With only a slight chill in the clear morning air that required a thin coat, temperatures soon warmed up to 75 or 80 degrees, resulting in some of the most beautiful aviation photography weather in the country.
At a small, non-controlled airport in lower central Arizona known as Marana Regional (KAVQ), the fun was just beginning. Early Friday afternoon, the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour landed at the airport, which would become their home base for the next three days.
This stop on the tour has become a regularly anticipated rendezvous, because this remote location allows for some unique events. The entire southeast portion of the ramp and surrounding desert scrub turns into what looks like a WWII base camp. The stop on the tour has become a favorite of the public and aviation photographers alike. This year did not disappoint as the Collings Foundation brought three returning veteran aircraft of past years and one we haven’t seen in a while: the B-17 “909”, B-24 “Witchcraft”, P-51 C “Betty Jane”, and the elusive B-25 “Tondelayo”.
One group of individuals I have to hand it to, which makes this visit special, is the Arizona Ground Crew Living History Unit. They bring a massive amount of period equipment that really adds to the historical significance of the weekend. They, along with several other period re-enactors, provide a seldom-seen look back to the days of remote field operations during WWII. The entire side of the airdrome takes on a WWII look and for the most part Marana still has that feel too. Just a good place to get great photos. We have been going to this location for years, sometimes even camping on the field with the ground crew re-enactors, and sharing in after-hour adult beverages and chatter. Let me tell you, there is nothing like sitting under a canvas WWII cover surrounded by period tents and equipment, smelling that classic military canvas odor. Add to that the chance to chat with guys in all kinds of uniforms, and looking over your shoulder to see four warbirds silhouetted in the moonlight. It brings chills of respect to the most hardened of souls; everyone should experience this.
All day Saturday the flying continued, with the Collings Foundation selling rides in all four aircraft. With Marana airport being home base to several well-known aircraft restoration outfits, the field filled with privately owned warbirds that fly in for the day to take part in the event, or who are based at the airport.
One of the airport-based restoration facilities hosts an evening meet and greet party for the Collings Foundation crew the re-enactors, along with select guests. The party has also become a staple of the weekend’s events, at times hosting a USO-style band as entertainment, warbird related door prizes and just good conversation with some very big players in the warbird movement today.
After the Saturday evening party, we all convoyed back to the base camp at the far southeast corner of the airport. It was awesome to witness a line of perfectly restored vehicles on the taxiways, with period clothed drivers pulling up to the aircraft parked in the moonlight. You really feel as if you’re in a time warp.
For the past several years the photographers have been granted special access, with the approval of Collings Foundation and the crew, to photograph different night activities such as engine run-ups. Additionally, a few select ground crew members are staged around the aircraft with period gear for select photographs. As an aviation photographer this is one event that should really not be missed! We can’t wait until next year when the classic aircraft arrive and once again the regional airport is transported back in time to become a WWII base camp.
We would like to thank all the people that make this possible – from the airport authority, to the city officials of Marana, Arizona, and the many volunteers and people behind the scenes. Additional thanks go to the unnamed restoration company that continues to fly against the wind, and especially the Collings Foundation for bringing such wonderfully restored and maintained aircraft, providing yet another safe event. We thank you.