Soaring over Suffolk

Published 11:06 pm Friday, May 30, 2014

This weekend’s Virginia Regional Festival of Flight is set to bring scores of aircraft to Suffolk Executive Airport, organizers say, provided the weather cooperates.

Ray Batton, president of the Virginia Aviation Council, said it is hard to predict just how many enthusiasts will fly in.

Brad Lang, leader of the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron, sits on the steps of the Tuskegee Airmen traveling exhibit, a new attraction at this year’s Festival of Flight, this weekend at Suffolk Executive Airport. The squadron is among 70, featuring a combined 156 airplanes, of the Commemorative Air Force.

Brad Lang, leader of the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron, sits on the steps of the Tuskegee Airmen traveling exhibit, a new attraction at this year’s Festival of Flight, this weekend at Suffolk Executive Airport. The squadron is among 70, featuring a combined 156 airplanes, of the Commemorative Air Force.

“Planes just show up,” he said at the airport Friday. “There has never been RSVPs. One year, we had 200-something planes.”

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The council and local sponsor Jani-King of Hampton Roads are responsible for bringing a traveling Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and restored plane to the festival this year for the first time.

“Rise Above: Triumph over Adversity,” presented by the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron, features a moving documentary film on the black World War II combat pilots.

If all goes according to plan, a son of one of the 946 airmen, Brad Lang, will perform acrobatics in the squadron’s restored P-51C Mustang, which he said is one of only six in existence.

Another of the squadron’s five volunteer pilots, Bill Shephard, is scheduled to fly in the plane, painted in Red Tail livery, from his home in Canada.

California-based Lang, the squadron’s leader, earns his living flying for Delta. He said he works four days on, three days off, and tries to volunteer with the squadron around the nation as much as possible.

Lang said that his Tuskegee Airmen father, Donald W. Lang Sr., went into the Army Air Corps in 1942, before applying for the 332nd, as the African-American combat pilot training program was called.

“All his friends were joining up for the effort, and he wanted to join as well,” Brad Lang said.

Donald Lang, who died in 2007, came into the war right as it was ending and worked with the base commander, his son said.

“He never went overseas, but he was greatly influenced by his training,” Brad Lang said.

According to his son, Donald Lang believed that he and the other black combat pilots — a notion unheard of in that racially segregated era — “thought they would be successful if given the opportunity.”

Another highlight at this year’s festival will be an air show performance by the Twin Tigers, planned for 1 p.m. Sunday.

A variety of aircraft, including homemade models and other vintage warplanes, will form the fly-in event, and various flights will be available to the public.

Children’s activities, vendors, workshops, a women’s tent and Young Eagles flights are all on the program, and a car and motorcycle show is scheduled for Saturday.

Jumping for a Purpose, an annual event at Skydive Suffolk that takes wounded warriors skydiving, also is on the agenda.

Admission costs $10 per person, with children under 13 free. The airport is at 1200 Gene Bolton Drive.

Visit www.virginiaflyin.org for more information.