Traveler, writer, reviewer, all-round observer. I like anything cool & fast, but occasionally sit at a cafe watching the world go by.
On September 1st, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, violating the Treaty of Versailles. Two days later, France and England declared war on Germany. And in December of 1941, when the U.S. officially entered the war, the American people again showed the world what they were capable of.
Devoted to preserving that important part of history, the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in New York stands at the forefront in keeping the memory of that time period, along with the Korean and Vietnam wars, from fading away.
Upholding “the legacy of all Americans who have sacrificed themselves to defend our liberties and to educate a new generation regarding the courage, valor and heroism of our nation’s citizen soldiers by presenting the operational aircraft and armor in the museum’s collection and its related displays, exhibits and programs” is their mission, and it is evident throughout the grounds. Approaching the hangar, a corridor of bombs and missiles greets you, guiding you toward the entrance impressing upon you a sense of their power.
At certain times of the year, the calendar at the museum rolls back to the 1940s once again and everything seems to come alive. When I arrived at this year’s Memorial Day event, as I parked my car, two 1942 B-17 pilots walked by. Carrying their flight gear, in full uniform, with slicked-back hair and thin moustache, they both tipped their caps and nodded as they went off to their mission briefing. Joseph Turi and Andrew Beard are among several volunteer reenactors at the AAM.
This year proved to surpass all previous years. With the joint cooperation of the Commemorative Air Force, the nearby Museum of American Armor, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and several volunteers for security and safety, the amount of aircraft, armor, displays, videos and educational material was incredible. And the number of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans admiring what is dedicated to them, makes this all the more special and worthwhile to experience. I myself had the honor and privilege to meet with several WWII veterans willing to talk about their experience (which I will share with you on separate postings).
As part of this annual event at the AAM, the Museum of American Armor paraded their WWII armored vehicles with an M3A1 Scout Car, M20 Recon Vehicle, and bringing up the rear with its trademark squeaky tracks and rumbling engine, the M4 Sherman Tank. After returning to their places for all to admire up close, the show continued as aircraft after aircraft taxied, took off, and flew over solo or in formation to the thrill of the crowd. And throughout, 1940s-era music filled the air along with wafts of aircraft exhaust and an occasional blast of hurricane-force winds from the propellers of powerful WWII engines.
Standing behind the security line as a P-51 Mustang lined up just over 100 feet away, the power of the vintage fighter reverberated through my body as it revved up before rolling down the runway at takeoff speed. I experienced it also from the P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, and many more. The AT-6D Texan trainer alone caused some car alarms to go off in the parking lot, and it took three people to hold down a snack stand from being blown away by the gale-force wind as it revved up a couple of hundred feet away to taxi to the runway. Parked in the middle of the crowd, proudly awaiting its own turn to join them in the sky, was the Commemorative Air Force’s famous B-29 Superfortress, Fifi.
A big treat was the Breitling Jet Team taking off in front of the crowd. The rarirty of their appearance in the U.S. added to the excitement of the event. As though that weren’t enough, their L-39 Jets did a surprise formation flyover which thrilled even the announcer. It was my pleasure to have met the Breitling Engineers later that day.
Shortly thereafter, another flight team made their presence known. Lining up facing the crowd as they performed their preflight checklist, the award-winning Geico Skytypers posed across the field. And one by one, they turned off toward the runway, positioning themselves in formation before taking off.
The weekend wasn’t all takeoffs and flybys, though. The large hangar housed tons of displays dedicated to educating, including movies, mockups, and memorabilia. Their exhibits on Jimmy Doolittle’s raid, the Tuskagee airmen, 1944 newspapers, and lifelike aircraft replicas which you can walk through, are a testimony to their mission statement.
When I went back outside, I heard a jet noise indicating another takeoff. As I looked to see what kind it was, I had to chuckle as a biplane lifted into the air. It was Jack Link’s Screaming Sasquatch – a biplane with an actual jet engine attached to it.
Toward the end of the weekend, despite her extremely busy schedule, my friends and I had the opportunity to chat with one of the persons who made the museum and this event possible, Mrs. Jacky Clyman.
My first question was about what led her and her husband to this path. “It all started with a company called Avirex in 1975.” Amazingly, military grade pilot jackets weren’t available to the public back then, meanwhile her husband, Jeff Clyman, and his family were pilots. This prompted Jeff to start that brand. Eventually he sold the trademark and created Cockpit USA with a store in Manhattan.
With their love for aviation and all its aspects, their long path led them to Republic Airport. “The museum was a result of our wanting to share with the public what these incredible airplanes and the people who built them, maintained them, and flew them, as well as the ground troops who fought alongside them, had to live through, to protect us.” At the time, when they founded and sponsored the museum, a reenactment group was looking for home. “They were looking for a place to live, so to speak.”
She admited that they can’t take all the credit for the success of the museum. All around the grounds, at the ready to help, educate, and answer questions, were quite a number of volunteers and reenactors -and some are even war veterens willing to give more of themselves to the public. Jacky gleamed when I inquired about them, “The museum honors those who served, and are now serving and educating current and hopefully future generations about the history embedded in the airplanes, exhibits, and artifacts found throughout.”
Although Jacky doesn’t fly, her fascination with aviation and its rich history is surpassed only by her husband’s, whose own interest dates back to a very young age. Jeff’s influence may be attributed to his father and uncle, who were pilots in WWII. And speaking of WWII and airplanes, my last question for her was more of a curiosity. “So, is there a connection between your name and the P-40 Warhawk ‘The Jacky C’ and the P-47 Thunderbolt ‘Jacky’s Revenge’?” She shyly smiled and nodded. This prompted me to ask, “And what’s the story behind that?” She laughed and exclaimed, “It’s a story we’ll never tell!”
As we said our goodbyes, she invited us to come back the next day for a C-47 D-Day reenactment. “They dress you up in a WWII outfit and take you into the briefing room to go over the Normandy invasion. Then you head off with the group to the C-47 and take off. While in flight, as you get close to your target, all hooked up, you start thinking, ‘Wait, am I going to have to jump?’ Of course you don’t, but it’s quite an experience!”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the last day of their incredible yearly dedication to the military and the veterans who served, but maybe next time. And to anyone making a mental note to attend next year’s, you don’t have to wait that long – there are special dedications, movie showings, tributes, and other events throughout the year at the AAM.
At other times, you can take it all in at a more relaxing, leisurely pace.
The American Airpower Museum is a 501C3 Non-Profit Organization chartered by the State of New York. It survives through corporate and individual contributions and events such as their Memorial Day event.
For more information about AAM, you can visit their website at http://www.americanairpowermuseum.com When you do go, make sure to tell them I sent you.
*A special thanks to my friends who agreed to be my photographers for the weekend: Colleen Donahue, Compliance expert, and musician/artist; Bryan Rivera, President of Windtee.com; And Christina Nitschmann, National Radio Host and Interviewer at Savvy Radio Central.
*And a grateful thank you to all the volunteers and reenactors at the American Airpower Museum, without whom the preservation of aviation history and the ability to enjoy it wouldn’t be possible.
To view more photos taken during the weekend, including more aircraft, armored vehicles, diplays, and flyovers, you can see them all on my Facebook page, Twitter, and Pinterest.