Air power over Suffolk

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hundreds of small planes like this one will be available for seeing and touching at the Festival of Flight on May 31 and June 1. Workshops, forums and more also will be held, as well as a car and motorcycle show and free plane rides for children.

Hundreds of small planes like this one will be available for seeing and touching at the Festival of Flight on May 31 and June 1. Workshops, forums and more also will be held, as well as a car and motorcycle show and free plane rides for children.

This year’s Festival of Flight will combine the past, present and future of aviation as activities include everything from a traveling Tuskegee Airmen museum to a forum on drones.

Happening May 31 and June 1 at the Suffolk Executive Airport, there’s something for everyone — whether they arrive by land or air — at the festival, said Dee Whittington, festival marketing chair.

“It’s going to be very interesting if you’re interested in aviation history at all,” Whittington said.

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Hundreds of folks with their own planes, including home-built models, are expected to fly in to show off their aircraft, which will be available for up-close views. In addition, the festival will feature free plane rides for kids, forums and workshops, a Sunday air show and more.

In addition, Jumping for a Purpose — which will take wounded veterans and the families of fallen service members skydiving — will be hosted at Skydive Suffolk on May 30-31. Folks are invited to come meet the wounded heroes and watch the skydiving activities.

The Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron’s Rise Above traveling exhibit will share the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, featuring a P-51C Mustang painted with the same paint scheme used on the Tuskegee Airmen’s planes.

“It’s essentially a rolling museum and a history of the whole Tuskegee experience for the pilots,” Whittington said. “Not enough people know the adversity they went through to be extremely competent fighter pilots. They were as good as anyone.”

The Commemorative Air Force “is a museum that has airplanes that actually fly instead of being pickled and put on display,” Whittington said.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black pilots in the Army Air Corps, having graduated from a training program set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Tuskegee, Ala., leading up to World War II. The program was not expected to be successful because of the prejudice against blacks, but the young black soldiers worked hard to prove everyone wrong.

“They’re just unsung heroes,” Whittington said. “They did a lot, and they got so much discrimination.”

All sixth-graders in Suffolk Public Schools will be visiting the Tuskegee exhibit on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, before the festival, as part of their lessons on American history.

Fast-forward more than 70 years, and one of the hottest topics in the news is unmanned aerial systems — informally known as drones. They will be the topic of one of the forums at the festival.

“There’s a huge push to use drones in commercial usage,” Whittington said. “Farmers really want to use them, especially out in the Midwest where they’ve got huge land holdings. Law enforcement really wants to use them.”

Drones will be the topic of a forum set for 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. on Saturday. Other forum topics include historic restoration, lessons learned from aircraft failures, aviation weather forecasts, Angel Flight and more.

Activities for young people will include free Young Eagles flights to youths between the ages of 8 and 17 beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Each child will receive a certificate making him or her an official Young Eagle.

Sunday’s airshow will take place from 1 to 2 p.m., with a car and motorcycle show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Gate hours for those driving in to the festival are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 per person, with children 13 and under free. Parking is free. Volunteers are needed.

For more information, visit www.virginiaflyin.org.