More Than a Field of Grass

C-47 Whiskey 7 at morning takeoff. Photo Courtesy of Larry Tetamore/larrytetamore.com
07/11/2024
by Vince and Lore' DiSalvo

A distinct sound is captured by our sense of hearing and we immediately search the sky above us to see what is causing it and from what direction is it coming. In today's world of many busy airports and commercial air travel, the sound of a jet aircraft overhead is so common, there usually is little interest to look up from what we are doing. But, the sounds and sight of military aircraft, both old and new, bring with them unique sounds and stories that are etched in our country's history. Maintaining and teaching this history is the purpose of museums such as the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo. As we pause to remember the 80th anniversary of D-Day and it's significance in our country's history, getting to see, hear and even ride in one of the aircraft that participated in the events of that day, such as the museum's C-47 Whiskey 7, is the closest one can come to stepping back in time. And what can be seen at this year’s National Warplane Museum Airshow on July 13 and 14 , 2024, are true-to-life time machines.

WWII BOMBER PILOT Robert Gillman holds his three-year old grandson Danny Webb while on a stop in Syracuse with his son Rob (r) on a promotional flight with a vintage B-17 Bomber the Fuddy Duddy Flying Fortress for the upcoming 1989 National Warplane Airshow in Geneseo, NY. Photo Courtesy of Lore DiSalvo:

 

Pilot/Robert Gilman (l) talks about flight directions with his son as they circle over Syracuse in a WWII B-17 Bomber Fuddy Duddy. Gillman's son Rob Gillman is the co-pilot on the promotional flight of the plane to Syracuse before the upcoming 1989 airshow at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo. Photo Courtesy of Rob Gillman

 

Inside the cockpit Rob Gillman (l) piloting the Movie Memphis Belle. Photo Courtesy of Kenneth E. Strohm, Photo-Journalist, KeSha Photography

 

Many examples of aircraft that were key to our countries World War II effort will be present at this years show. Unfortunately, missing from this year's Airshow will be the B-17 Flying Fortress named the Yankee Lady. It was hoped she would make an appearance but, like the men of our Greatest Generation who flew these aircraft, time has taken it's toll and the number of B-17s that are still airworthy has diminished to around only five (5), of which the Yankee Lady is one.

For many years, the sky over the Genesee Valley was home to a flight worthy B-17 named Fuddy Duddy. It was found in Arizona by Austin Wadsworth and Bill Anderson in 1985 and purchased by the museum for $250,000. After many hours put in by the volunteers at the museum, it was restored to flying condition. It was officially named Fuddy Duddy in 1987 after the original B-17 that, after ninety-six (96) successful missions, was destroyed in an air collision over Germany in 1944. This particular B-17 never saw combat but it did spend some time in the Pacific Theater at the end of the war as a transport plane, having carried General Eisenhower and General MacArthur at least once. Although at one point there were over one hundred and fifty (150) B-17s in the Pacific Theater, they were deemed by Army Air Force General, Henry “Hap” Arnold, unsuitable for the operations that were needed for that effort and were replaced with B-24s and B-29s. Between July of 1935 and August of 1943 over twelve thousand five hundred (12,500) B-17s were produced.

The people attending the 1987 AirShow in Memphis, Tennessee were treated to the rare formation of eight (8) B-17s in flight which included the National Warplane Museum's Fuddy Duddy. It was billed as the largest gathering of B-17s to take to the sky since the war's end in 1945. They gathered to celebrate the restoration and dedication of the original Memphis Belle (not the Movie B-17 with the same name), the most famous B-17 of World War II. The following year, Fuddy Duddy and five (5) other B-17s flew in formation at the Geneseo Airshow.

 

Up close side front of the Movie Memphis Belle. Photo Courtesy of Kenneth E. Strohm, Photo-Journalist, KeSha Photography

 

Rob Gillman in his Vultee BT-13 Basic Trainer plane. Photo Courtesy of Kenneth E. Strohm, Photo-Journalist, KeSha Photography

 

Movie Memphis Belle taking off in 2010, Rob Gillman is the pilot. Photo Courtesy of Larry Tetamore/larrytetamore.com

 

Although a B-17 will be missing from this year's show, a gentleman with a wealth of knowledge about B-17s, who has flown in both cockpit seats of Fuddy Duddy with his father, Robert Gillman, will be there with his own World War II aircraft. Rob Gillman has been a member of the Museum from it's inception. He owns and flies the WWII, silver Vultee BT-13 Basic Trainer you will find at this years Airshow. It is the same type of trainer his Dad learned to fly before becoming a B-24 pilot. When you talk to Rob about B-17s or any WWII aircraft, or any of the Museum Staff, you will hear a passion to educate younger generations about the history of our country and the herculean roll our forefathers played when our country called. The Airshow and the Museum also serve as an opportunity for Veterans to come together and share their first-hand experiences while in service to our country. It is often said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but to see and hear these aircraft up close and in person is an experience of a lifetime.

In 1989, Rob and his father Robert Gillman, flew the National Warplane Museums B-17, Fuddy Duddy on a promotional flight to Syracuse for Geneseo's upcoming Airshow. Then in 1990, they teamed up again and flew Fuddy Duddy to the “Sky Spectacular 90” Airshow at the County Municipal Airport in Baltimore. Rob has also flown the Movie Memphis Belle flying fortress. Any appearance of a flying B-17 at an Airshow today is a very rare experience. Even acquiring a B-17 for a static display is an ever escalating financial expense that most museums cannot support. The sale of the National Warplane Museum's Fuddy Duddy in 2002, allowed the Museum to erase a substantial debt burden and opened the opportunity to expand their static display aircraft as well as keeping their in theater signature WWII aircraft, Whiskey 7, flying.

This coming weekend, travel back in time at the National Warplane Museum AirShow with real “Time Machines.” Every aircraft has a story to tell and all you need do is listen and observe.

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