Ace World War II fighter pilots will be the stars of the next “Living History” program at Florida’s Fantasy of Flight.
The first featured the barrier-breaking Tuskegee Airmen. Next came the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Next, Fantasy of Flight plans to top off its Living History Symposium series with “Victory in the Sky,” featuring appearances by surviving World War II American fighter aces. Each of that elite group of combat pilots shot down five or more hostile aircraft in air-to-air combat. Of the more than 40,000 fighter pilots trained during World War II, only 1,314 had the skill and bravery to become aces.
On May 2, at noon in Fantasy of Flight’s Officers’ Club, several of those brave and extremely skilled combat pilots – including Col. Robert L. Liles, Cmdr. Ben Amsden and Lt. Col. A.T. House, among others – will share their tales of aerial warfare in a forum with Fantasy of Flight guests, as part of “Victory in the Sky.” An autograph and meet-and-greet session will be held after the symposium, said Kermit Weeks, founder and creator of Fantasy of Flight.
The opportunity to meet real-life World War II heroes is included with admission to Fantasy of Flight, “where immersion experiences and meticulously recreated historical exhibits take guests back in time to see, hear and feel what it was like to fly some of America’s greatest wartime airplanes,” Weeks said. “The stories of these courageous pilots are further brought to life through permanent and semi-permanent exhibits, the world’s largest private collection of rare and vintage aircraft, and tours of aircraft restoration and maintenance areas,” he added.
“These days, fighter pilot video games are a dime a dozen, but for the gentlemen who will join us May 2, the risk was very real and the price of losing that game was their lives,” Weeks said. “The American Fighter Aces are true American heroes and defenders of our country. I hope that every family in the Central Florida area will take advantage of the opportunity to come meet these amazing pilots and hear their fascinating stories at first hand.”
Col. Robert L. Liles joined the Army Air Corps in November of 1940 and joined the 16th Fighter Squadron of the 51st Fighter Group in May of 1942. Flying his P-40 Warhawk he named “Duke,” for John Wayne, Liles had five confirmed aerial victories, five probables and two damaged Japanese aircraft while serving in World War II. He retired as a colonel in 1970.
A 1944 graduate of the Navy Flight Training Program at Pensacola, Florida, Commander Ben Amsden was a member of VF- 22, serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cowpens, nicknamed “The Mighty Moo.” Flying an F6F Hellcat, Amsden shot down five enemy aircraft in aerial combat in little more than one year. After returning to civilian life, he earned a degree in hotel management from Cornell University and worked for Sheraton and Holiday Inn for many years.
Also joining the symposium is Lt. Col. A.T. House, a Marine who re-enlisted in the Army, trained as a pilot and claimed his first aerial victory in March of 1942, flying a P-40 he nicknamed “Poopy,” while flying over the Torres Strait, north of Australia. By March of 1943, House had claimed four more victories over New Guinea. After a tour in China, he was promoted to Lt. Col. in 1945, went back to serving in the Army, then moved to the Air Force, from which he retired in 1960.
On May 2, as well as on June 20 and 21, Fantasy of Flight also will feature Open Cockpit Days, during which guests are invited to get up close to some of America’s rarest vintage aircraft and climb aboard for a photo opportunity, Weeks said.
For information: fantasyofflight.com/