Retro Wednesday: The Great New England Airshow

A rumble, kind of a cracking rumble.  A kind of cracking, tearing, rumble.  And then it is out from behind the clouds, overhead, and then gone.

Fighter planes and stunt men, and much, much more, put on quite a quite a show at Westover Airforce Base this weekend.  What could be better than standing on the hot tarmac watching these enormous metal birds tear through the sky, twist at high speeds, make a roar that sounds like the sky ripping open, launch upwards just to nose dive straight toward the ground, and fly in formation mere feet from other planes?

Seeing it, at least some of it, from my very own back yard.

In October, 1940 Babu writes:

Saturday, October 5th, 1940

Chester Modzelewski, Jake and I went to the air show in Westfield this afternoon and saw two crackups.  One fellow didn’t come out of a spin.

I just transcribed this passage the other day.  Does this mean at this airshow Babu witness two pilot’s deaths?  Airshows were likely a different thing in those days but, after just reading that, my heart stayed in my throat every time I saw this from my back porch:


My favorite thing was when they flew directly over head:

The crazy thing is that I can find nothing on the internet about the airshow Babu attended in 1940.  She writes “Westfield” so this must be Barnes Airforce Base – was it an Airforce base then? – but, no matter how I search, I can find no record.  I even looked up airshow accidents on Wikipedia.  It was not for the morbidity but in hopes it would lead me to more information about this airshow Babu went to see.  Nope.  I did find a manuscript written by Desmond Edward Barker called Zero Error Margin Airshow Display Flying Analyzed.  Even though he wrote a few of what I would call case reports about accidents at airshows they do not go far back enough to include what Babu witnessed.  I have a feeling this is hard to find because it was a private airshow not a military one.  That is just a hunch.  The books still had some interesting information:

The first airshow ever is widely acknowledged to have been held at Reims, France as early as August 1909, where some of Europe’s most famous aviators gathered to ‘wow’ the crowds with their new flying machines. The ability to just get airborne was in those early days an achievement on its own.

So I guess it was not as novel as I thought for there to be an airshow in 1940.  This next excerpt from Barker’s manual spoke about the different categories of airshows:

The second category, Military Airshows, whether Navy, Army or Air Force, has as its main objective, recruitment of young men and women into the military. In contrast to the Business Trade Shows, the focus is a personnel recruiting and public relations effort, not necessarily always showmanship.

Those airshows were effective in getting young men dreaming of flying.  I can think of one in particular.

At this point I will reveal another spoiler to you.  “Jakey” was bound and determined to fly.  You will read a lot about what I call Jakey’s “early life crisis” in the next bunch of posts and, well, it ends with him achieving his dream of flight.  He became a pilot in the Airforce and fought in WWII, was high ranking and much respected in the Air Force, ran 104th regiment out of Barnes Airforce Base, and even flew commercially for a while.  The word “pilot” is synonymous with “Jake” to me.  I found this quote in Barker’s book and it couldn’t apply more to this man:

“As a pilot, only two bad things can happen to you: One day you will walk out to the aircraft knowing that it is your last flight in an aircraft. One day you will walk out to the aircraft not knowing that it is your last flight in an aircraft”. (Anon)



2 Comments Add yours

  1. I think that airshows were pretty popular between the wars both private and airforce. I read the biography of Douglas Bader, the British WWII fighter pilot who had no legs. He lost them in a flying accident before the war. The book mentions air shows he took part in prior to his accident when he was an RAF officer cadet in the early thirties.
    I have seen The Roulettes, the RAAF aerobatic squad perform at events several times and when you see those planes flying towards each other so fast it is always frightening as well as thrilling especially at low level which they do if it is cloudy. You know they have done it so many times but it looks so dangerous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOW! And thank you for this extra information.

      Liked by 1 person

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