A World War II Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter restored after decades underwater will headline the second Radials N’ Rivers Fly-In at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport Saturday.
The Dottie Mae is one of dozens of aircraft from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War – including B-17 and B-24 bombers – expected to be exhibited at the event, which organizers say might attract as many as 10,000 people.
The Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour will have airplanes on display and available for tours and rides Friday afternoon through late Sunday morning. A ceremony honoring veterans is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by fly-overs until about 2 p.m.
“They will be display passes,” said Gary Peters, one of the event’s organizers. “There will be no aerobatics.”
Spectators are encouraged to bring lawn chairs; Happy Day Catering will sell food.
The Dottie Mae was named after the wife of Lt. Larry Kuhl, the aircraft’s first pilot. It flew more than 90 missions in World War II, including on D-Day when the Allies invaded Nazi-occupied France, Peters said.
Peters, collects aircraft from the 1920s and 1930s, “The Golden Age” of flying and World War II military aircraft. The P-47s were known as the workhorse of World War II and sometimes were referred to as “The Jug” because of their large round fuselages, he said.
They were equipped with eight .50-caliber machine guns and successfully disabled numerous targets, such as trains carrying supplies to Nazi troops and Nazi-ammunition making plants, Peters said.
Even though P-47s played a critical role in World War II, fewer than 10 are flying today. Many were dismantled for scrap metal or left in France after the war, said Peters, a heavy equipment dealer who is building hangars and an aviation museum on the south side of the airport.
“It’s one of the most historically significant war birds in the world right now,” he said.
Pilots liked P-47s partly because they were relatively safe to fly, with a large heavily armored cockpit, Peters said. The Dottie Mae went unscathed during the war, only to crash in an Austrian lake near a German prisoner of war camp during a celebratory flight to alert Allied captives help was on the way.
The pilot survived, but the aircraft sank to the bottom of the lake where it stayed until it was recovered in the summer of 2005.
It was acquired by Jack Croul, a California World War II veteran who was a navigator on B-17 Flying Fortresses. A private collector and former owner of Behr Paint, Croul had the Dottie Mae restored at Vintage Airframes in Caldwell.
The task took 55,000 hours and was finished last August.
“These parts are unobtainable,” Peters said. “They had to hand make everything.”
The price for rides on the Wings of Freedom aircraft ranges from $400 per person for a 30-minute flight on a B-25 twin-engine bomber to $3,200 for a 60-minute excursion on a TF-51D Mustang, which includes time learning how to operate the plane. Reservations are available by calling (978) 562-9182.
People can walk through the bombers displayed by the Collings Foundation at no cost, Hillcrest Aircraft general manager Gary Groff said.
The Fly-In is being held on June 30 instead of July 4 as it was last year because of how the weekends fall. Last year July 4 was on a Tuesday and many people took a four-day weekend.
Since the Fourth of July falls in the middle of the week this year, it was better to have it the prior weekend to give owners of antique planes more time to travel, Peters said.
Those who are displaying their aircraft are coming from as far away as Boston and Florida.
Next year the Fly-In will likely shift back to July 4, when the holiday is again part of a four-day weekend, Peters said.
Peters hopes many of the aviators who participate in the event return and eventually make Lewiston their home.
“Lewiston is set to be a world stage,” Peters said. “We’re trying to convince the aviation community the Lewiston airport is spectacular. It’s beautiful. It’s safe.
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