Festival set to soar

Published 10:24 pm Monday, April 29, 2013

When for almost a year from June 1948 the Soviets blockaded access to sections of West Berlin, it took a big and reliable plane to get supplies in for the people living there.

That aircraft, used in over 200,000 flights to deliver necessities like food and fuel, was the four-engine Douglas C-54E.

One of these life-giving machines, fully restored to flying condition by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, will again feature at this weekend’s Festival of Flight.

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The 15th annual fly-in will be held at Suffolk Executive Airport, where the Douglas, outfitted as a flying museum teaching about one of the Cold War’s early international crises, has already arrived in preparation.

Another major attraction, according to Dee Whittington, the festival’s public relations chairman, will be a forum, at 11:15 a.m. on the Saturday, by long-distance light-aircraft aviator Bill Harrelson.

At the end of February, Fredericksburg-based Harrelson flew his modified Lancair IV from Indiana to Honolulu, then on to Guam, and back from there to Jacksonville, Fla., unofficially breaking a record in the process.

“His real goal was to do an around-the-world flight, but not around the equator but (from) pole to pole,” Whittington said.

“He found he had to cancel — the weather was too terrible. The winds had gotten up, and he didn’t want to kill himself. That will be a fascinating talk.”

Other festival highlights will include Bob Coolbaugh’s replica of the 1911 Ely-Curtiss Pusher, which he built and flew around America to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first aircraft to take off and land on a Navy vessel.

Meanwhile, 757 Adventures will fly in an L-39 jet fighter, a Great Lakes biplane and T-6 military trainer.

“Generally it’s a fly-in event without an air show, but this time we’ve got a small but very good air show on Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m.,” Whittington said, adding the show includes a daring wing-walker.

For younger visitors, he continued, the festival will include various activities for kids, such as “shooting off bottles” and Young Eagles flights.

Under the Young Eagles program, pilots volunteer their time, aircraft and gas to take kids on free joy flights, usually lasting about 15 minutes.

But of course, the most exciting part of the festival is the fly-in itself, Whittington said.

As many as 600 aircraft have turned up previously, but high gas prices have leveled numbers off in recent years.

“You never know what you are going to get,” he said.

A motorcycle and car show is planned for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and pilots are always willing to provide information about learning to fly, and sometimes even offer demonstration flights.

Each day starts with a pancake breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m., and admission for drive-in attendees is $10 for ages 14 and up. Parking is free.

For more information, visit www.virginiaflyin.org, or call the Suffolk Visitor Center at 514-4130.