MARION, Iowa - They’re modeled after real planes, many of which actually flew the skies over Europe decades ago.
“B-17 bombers, we’ve got a B-25 bomber here today, B-24 bombers,” said Todd Davis, Warbirds Over Iowa contest director. Most of them are from the World War II era. “That’s most common, because that was like the heyday of prop-driven aircraft.”
This is a place for aviation enthusiasts and R/C buffs, but it’s also a meeting of people paying tribute to our veterans. Donations collected here support the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight.
“We’re losing WWII veterans, about 1,000 a day,” said George Rickey, media coordinator for the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight. “So our mission is to try get as many of them who can, who are still interested and able to, to get them on this flight so we can say ‘thank you’ for their service.”
Part of that “thank you” is the attention to detail on display here, right down to the authentic nose art, and the little pilots sitting in the tiny cockpits. Several of the figures at this event were hand-crafted by Lyle Vasser, to look like their real-life counterparts.
“I employ a 3D printer, that will actually take the person’s face, the photograph, and print it in three dimensions, and in color, and then put that into the pilot figure,” said Vasser, “so it actually looks like you’re flying your aircraft.”
Part of the fun is watching these aircraft, some with several years of work and several thousands of dollars put into them, buzz the ground at close to 100 miles per hour.
And part of the thrill is the risk involved, like when Vasser’s B-25 Mitchell lost an engine during Saturday’s flight. But as he put it, “pilots never panic.”
“Especially since I’m on the ground,” Vasser told us. “Now, if I was in the plane, I’d have been screaming my head off.”
For pilots like Steve Forrest, this high-altitude hobby is satisfying because of the stories that come out of it.
“When a World War II pilot comes up to us and says, ‘I used to fly those,’ or if the son of a World War II veteran comes up and says ‘my dad flew those,’ that’s the enjoyment we get out of it,” Forrest said.