Mid-Atlantic Air Museum Night-Engine-Run Photo Shoot


Story and photos by Corey Beitler

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum held its 33rd annual World War II Weekend living history event and airshow on June 7, 8, and 9 at the Reading Regional Airport in Reading, Pennsylvania. The museum’s major fundraising event of the year, World War II Weekend is an event that captures the essence of those important years in world history. World War II Weekend includes an airshow featuring restored World War II aircraft, living history encampments and exhibits, a swing hangar dance on Friday and Saturday evenings, displays of restored military vehicles, live entertainment with appropriate themes for the period, and much more. During World War II Weekend, the airport grounds surrounding the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum are populated by over 30 restored World War II aircraft, hundreds of restored military vehicles, and over 1,500 reenactors, some even traveling to the event from Canada. Special guest speakers, including surviving World War II veterans, authors, and artists, also attend the event. World War II Weekend is a wonderful tribute to the “Greatest Generation” and not only honors those who served in the armed forces during World War II but also those who worked on the home front to help the United States and its allies achieve victory.

This year, World War II Weekend featured over 30 restored aircraft including examples of fighters, bombers, trainers, transports, and liaison types. New to the event this year was the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team’s Douglas C-49 “Wild Kat”, a rare example of a Wright Cyclone-powered DC-3 impressed into military service during World War II. Another aircraft new to the event this year was The Warbird Factory/Prescott Foundation’s General Motors TBM-3 Avenger “Ida Red”. Also attending the event this year were crowd favorites such as the Commemorative Air Force’s Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Fifi” and North American P-51D Mustang “Red Nose”. Rides were available in several World War II aircraft at the event, and many of the airplanes in attendance flew as part of afternoon airshows on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Unfortunately, just before the event, it was learned that an aircraft that has been a long-time fixture at World War II Weekend may not be returning to the event for some time, if not ever again. The Michigan Flight Museum announced that their Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady” has been sold to a buyer on the West Coast. The new owner will be doing a complete restoration on the aircraft but plans to keep it airworthy. It is unknown if the new owner plans to attend any future World War II Weekend events with the B-17.


For the fourth consecutive year, an exclusive “Night-Engine-Run Photo Shoot” was offered on Saturday evening as part of the Photo Experience package available to professional photographers at World War II Weekend. Night photo shoots at airshows are becoming more popular with professional photographers. These photo shoots are an excellent way for an airshow venue or aviation museum to raise additional funds to cover event expenses and put towards the restoration of aircraft in a museum’s collection or to cover bringing an additional aircraft into the event. This event at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum is held under the guidance of the World War II Weekend Media Coordinators Dave and Christina Brown. Lighting for the event is provided by Pete Lerro from Lerro Photography. Lerro Photography offers many special photography workshops throughout the country, including lighthouses, railroads, living history events, and airshows. For this year’s event, the three aircraft chosen were the General Motors TBM-3 Avenger “Ida Red” from The Warbird Factory/Prescott Foundation, the Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” replica from the CAF Airbase Georgia, and the Douglas C-53 Skytrooper “Beach City Baby” from Vintage Wings Inc.


This year, the “Night-Engine-Run Photo Shoot” was moved to the hot ramp of the event grounds. The reason for this change was for safety reasons. The tug crew was concerned about pulling “Beach City Baby”, a larger aircraft being a C-53 Skytrooper, through the show grounds in darkness. The change in location to the hot ramp created a much safer travel path for the tug crew moving the aircraft. The other benefit of the location change to the hot ramp is that the aircraft can be left there overnight once the photo shoot is finished, as it is a secure area and the tug crew can return them to the public display area of the event in the morning and during daylight hours. Photographers involved in the night shoot gathered in the early evening near the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s main hangar and were escorted out to the hot ramp by Dave and Christina Brown and the designated media escorts. Also supporting the event was the Greenfields Fire Company, who wet down the ramp once the three aircraft were moved into position to provide light reflection for the photographers, and the Bern Township Police Department, which provided security. Supervision of the aircraft during their engine runs was handled by members of the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum flight line and tug team. As aircraft were moved into final positions, Pete Lerro set up his lighting equipment and provided camera setting guidance for the photographers. Jason Capra from Vintage Wings Inc. also spent some time talking with the photographers about the history and restoration of “Beach City Baby” Each aircraft was run for approximately 10 minutes, allowing photographers ample opportunity to take several shots. Unusual for Eastern Pennsylvania in early June, temperatures were moderate and a steady breeze kept things comfortable for all attendees.


The first aircraft to be run was the General Motors TBM-3E Avenger “Ida Red” from The Warbird Factory/Prescott Foundation. In addition to running the engine, the pilot demonstrated the Avenger’s wing folding capability twice during the photo shoot. Designed by Grumman and designated the TBF Avenger, most Avengers were built by General Motors, where they were designated as the TBM, so Grumman’s production capacity could be used to build their F6F Hellcat fighter. Introduced into service in 1942, the Avenger’s career had an auspicious beginning, with five of six aircraft lost on the Avenger’s first combat operations during the Battle of Midway. The Avenger survived in service to become the most effective submarine killer and most widely-used torpedo bomber during World War II. The Avenger played a role in sinking the Japanese battleships Yamato and Musashi and was credited with sinking 30 submarines. The Avenger is also famous as the aircraft former President George H.W. Bush flew and was shot down in during the war. Five Avengers were also lost mysteriously on December 5, 1945, most likely off the coast of Florida or the Bahamas, and no trace of them has ever been found. The disappearance of Flight 19 without a trace has added to the lore of the Bermuda Triangle. Initially used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the Avenger was eventually used by several air and naval aviation services around the war, either as a torpedo bomber or an anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Heavily modified, Avengers served in the latter role until the 1960s. Surplus Avengers were sold to civilian aerial firefighting agencies and converted into water bombers, with some aircraft serving in this role into the early 2000s.


“Ida Red” was delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1945 and spent time as a training aircraft with VT-17 from September to December 1945. After the war, the Avenger was sold to the Royal Canadian Navy, who converted the aircraft to a water bomber. In the 1970s, it was bought by Ralph Ponte, who restored it to its military configuration. The next owner of the Avenger was Dave Tinker, who gave the airplane its “Ida Red” nickname in the 1990s. The Prescott Foundation acquired “Ida Red” in 2022.


The second aircraft run during the photo shoot was the replica of the Nakajima 5N2 “Kate” torpedo bomber operated by the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Georgia. The B5N2 was the standard shipboard Japanese torpedo bomber at the start of World War II. Designed to meet a specification for a carrier-based torpedo bomber in 1935, the B5N2 was one of the most advanced torpedo bombers in the world when it entered service. The B5N2 played a critical role in many early battles in the Pacific theatre, such as the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, and the Battle of Guadalcanal. The B5N2 was responsible for sinking several U.S. aircraft carriers in the early stages of World War II and inflicted serious damage on the U.S. Pacific fleet during the Attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1944, most B5N2s had been lost and the type was obsolete. The few examples that remained in service were relegated to the roles of submarine patrol and training, some surviving aircraft being used for kamikaze at the end of the war. This B5N2 “Kate” reproduction was built in 1969 by combining the airframe of a North American SNJ-4 with the tail section of a Vultee BT-13 Valiant.


This aircraft was built for use in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! This airplane also appeared in the movies The Battle of Midway, The Flying Misfits, War and Remembrance, and the TV series Black Sheep Squadron. It is painted in the markings of the Group Leader from the Second Carrier Division of the Japanese aircraft carrier, Hiryu. On December 7, 1941, its flight crew of pilot Jyosuke Uesugi, bombardier Lt. Toshio Hashimoto, and rear gunner Tomio Koyama was assigned to attack the battleship U.S.S. California.


The final aircraft run during the photo shoot was the Douglas C-53 Skytrooper “Beach City Baby”, owned by Jason Capra and his Vintage Wings Inc. organization. “Beach City Baby” is a rare C-53 Skyrtooper, a Douglas DC-3 designated for military service. Unlike the C-47, the C-53 does not have big cargo doors, a reinforced floor, or sturdier landing gear. The C-53 was used as a troop transport, paratrooper drop platform, glider tug, and medical evacuation aircraft. Vintage Wings Inc.’s C-53 was on the Douglas factory floor when Pearl Harbor was attacked and accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in January 1942. Assigned to Ferry Command, the C-53 flew some of the very first ferry and survey flights to and from England, laying the groundwork for the supply route that would deliver personnel and supplies to England for the war effort in Europe. Later in the war, “Beach City Baby” ended up in Africa with Air Transport Command, ferrying wounded and troops in and out of North Africa.


After the war, the Douglas C-53 ended up with Danish Airlines until it was sold in 1952. Eventually, it was returned to the United States as a corporate aircraft and later served as “Buckeye One” the transport aircraft for the Governor of Ohio. After passing through some more owners, the Douglas C-53 ended up at the airport in Beach City, Ohio, its condition deteriorating and awaiting an uncertain fate. Jason Capra saw the airplane in 2015 while driving past the airport and struck a deal to purchase the airplane, forming Vintage Wings Inc. in the process. After three years of work, Jason Capra and his volunteer team did enough work on the C-53 to be able to fly it from Ohio to the Vintage Wings Inc. headquarters in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Now fully restored, the C-53 “Beach City Baby” travels to airshows and aviation events throughout the summer, educating people about the history of the airplane and its role during World War II.


After “Beach City Baby” shut down, there was one final surprise in store for the attendees of the “Night-Engine-Run Photo Shoot”. Pete Lerro brought out a group of reenactors dressed up as U.S. paratroopers to pose with “Beach City Baby”. These paratroopers were dressed in full gear and posed with the front of the airplane and near the rear of “Beach City Baby”, to appear as if they were boarding. With the 80th Anniversary of Operation Overlord: The Invasion of Normandy, more famously known as D-Day, just a few days earlier, these reenactors added a sense of realism to this photo shoot. It was easy to put yourself back in time while photographing these reenactors and imagine they were boarding an airplane in the early morning hours to be dropped over Normandy on that historic day. The finale of the photo shoot was a wonderful tribute to these brave men who participated in one of the most important battles of World War II, many of which made the ultimate sacrifice.

The 4th Annual Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend “Night-Engine-Run Photo Shoot” was once again a success, with the photographers in attendance getting some great shots of aircraft under the lights and a bonus of a living history photo shoot with reenactors. Special thanks go to the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, World War II Weekend Media Coordinators Dave and Christina Brown, Pete Lerro from Lerro Photography for providing the lighting and reenactors for the shoot, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum World War II Weekend Flight Line Crew, Greenfields Fire Company, and the Bern Township Police Department for their assistance in making the event a success. Special thanks also go to The Warbird Factory/Prescott Factory and pilot Wesley Atteberry for providing the Avenger, CAF Airbase Georgia and pilot Max Hodges for providing the B5N2 “Kate” replica, and Vintage Wings Inc. and pilots Jason Capra and Ryan Newell for providing the C-53 Skytrooper.

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