The annual Planes of Fame air show at Chino, California, on May 5-6, 2018, was not your typical air show.
It was non-stop warbirds, warbirds, and warbirds. Yes, there are some good non-warbird aerobatic acts, like Sean Tucker’s Oracle team and Rob Harrison, but nowhere else can you find nearly 50 warbirds flying throughout the day in shifts representing different eras and combat operations.
It is a sensory buffet of sights and sounds, ranging from the short, brisk exhaust reports from Merlin-powered P-51 Mustangs to the melodious sound of P-38s, and the insistent roar of a pair of R-2800 engines in a Grumman F7F Tigercat as pilot Stewart Dawson carved loops in the sky over Chino.
Gates opened at 8 a.m. both days of the show. From a vast unpaved parking area, visitors could walk to a tram station for the ride to the show site, or else take that journey afoot, past some of the aviation curiosities for which the Chino airport is famous.
In addition to large multi-engine aircraft, helicopters, and static aircraft parked on the ramp, the flyable fighters held center stage in long rows, angled to allow good photo opportunities before moving out for their turn in the sky.
The show began with a stirring missing-man formation made up on Saturday with two P-47 Thunderbolts, two P-38 Lightnings, and one P-51 Mustang.
On Sunday, visitors were treated to the sight and sound of the two Thunderbolts in formation with three P-38s, creating the missing man maneuver as they passed over paratroops descending from a C-47 at mid-field.
The annual show gives the hosting Planes of Fame museum an opportunity to fly three of the unique jewels in its extensive collection. The world’s only flying prewar Boeing P-26 pursuit, the only Seversky AT-12 variant of the P-35, and the only Northrop N-9M flying wing all flew the pattern over Chino each morning.
When the revered classics, including visiting Stearman and N3N biplanes and a Lockheed Electra in Air Corps markings, were recovered, the field was beat up over and over by the big iron of World War II, making enough passes to ensure ample opportunity to see and photograph these historic machines in action.
With so many warbirds flying, the spectacle was enormous.
The numbers were compelling: Four flyable and one static version of the Lightning were on hand; the parked Lightning was the rare F-5G photo recon variant from Yanks Air Museum, also located at Chino; four Curtiss P-40 Warhawks flew; two P-47s were aloft simultaneously; and, to the delight of the crowd, a pair of F7F Tigercats formed up for some power passes.
Planes of Fame has the world’s only flying Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter that still has an authentic Japanese Sakae engine. This rare fighter flew each afternoon.
P-51 Mustangs abounded, including Planes of Fame’s rare Allison-powered P-51A and the P-51C “Boise Bee” that flew down for the show from the Warhawk Air Museum of Nampa, Idaho.
The Commemorative Air Force also brought several aircraft, including an F8F Bearcat.
Bombers were represented by the Planes of Fame B-25J and the B-25 flown by Carl Scholl and crew from Aero Trader, a warbird restoration facility on the field.
The two B-25s were joined by the world’s only flying PB4Y-2 Privateer, a mighty four-engine patrol bomber that showed remarkable agility in the air.
Greg Colyer flew acro maneuvers in a T-33 Shooting Star.
A highlight of this year’s Chino show was an appearance by two competitive Reno air racers, the highly modified P-51s called “Strega” and “Voodoo.” “Voodoo” and pilot Steven Hinton currently hold a world speed record category, set last year at more than 531 mph.
The show closed each day with a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II flight demonstration capped with a heritage flight with its wartime ancestor, the P-47 Thunderbolt and a P-38 Lightning.
Attendance topped 30,000, which Planes of Fame’s Harry T. Geier, director of marketing and development, said was “near full capacity in attendance for both days.”
The Chino air show is typically held the first weekend in May each year, so make your plans now to attend.