Visitors asked to bring memorabilia
The roar of vintage aircraft will fill the skies above the Pratt Regional Airport as vintage World War II aircraft return for a fly-in at the airport.
It will also be a time for area families to bring out their own memorabilia to help tell the story of the Pratt Army Air Field.
Set for Saturday and Sunday June 1 and 2, the fly-in will feature Commemorative Air Force aircraft from the World War II era. Other private aircraft are also expected to participate. With the expected number of aircraft, the fixed base operator Randy Hewitt said it would not present a problem to get the planes in and out safely.
"I think I can handle the flight line," Hewitt said.
The fly-in will be in conjunction with the dedication of the "Bombers on the Prairie Museum." The building is the former parachute building from when the Pratt Army Air Field was in operation from 1943 to 1946. Dedication of the museum is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 1.
Work is still underway on the parachute building but artifacts will be on display. More space is needed to handle all the material the committee has gathered. Recently acquired is historical material from the 73rd Bomb Wing and the 444th Bomb Wing.
The committee is also waiting to hear about a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism grant that will be used to build a one-mile walk around the airfield. The Legislature has not designated appropriations yet so the committee will have to wait.
Many people in Pratt have memorabilia from the World War II era and from PAAF. The committee is asking people to bring memorabilia to display during the two-day event and to get it recorded.
Very little of this memorabilia has been documented so this would be good time to get these items on record, said George Stevens, Committee chair.
Besides the pilots and crews, other groups and locations were vital to the operation of the base including the Gray Ladies (nurses), Women Airforce Service Pilots who actually helped fly B-29s to the various training fields, the ladies from Pratt and Wichita that were dancing partners for the service men, the homes in Victory Heights in Pratt, the numerous families that opened their homes to the service men. All these need to be documented.
The PAAF was the first training facility in the world for the new B-29 crews.
But before the fly-in becomes a reality, a number of items have to be finalized. Randy Hewitt, the fixed base operator told the B-29 Committee that the airport has limited space and that he couldn't guarantee inside storage for all aircraft. Pilots will also need to bring their own tie downs.
Most of the aircraft will be on static display with rides available on the B-17.
Charging admission for the event was discussed but in the end it was decided that a free will offering would be taken when patrons enter the field. Stevens said he could make arrangements for American Legion Riders and Pratt Firefighters to help with donations and traffic control.
A highlight of the event will be B-29 Combat Pilot Chuck Chauncey who will describe "The Most Dangerous Mission."
Several World War II aircraft are scheduled for the event. The Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force out of Wichita will provide a 1944 Fairchild PT-23 and a 1944 Cessna UC-78 Bobcat. Coming from the CAF Arizona Wing is the B-17 "Sentimental Journey" with options for rides. The B-17 will arrive early and be in Pratt starting Thursday, May 31 to Sunday, June 2.
Committee member Jack McCawley said information for bricks for the memorial would also be available.
In order to get the B-17 here, the airport will have to furnish several hundred gallons of aviation fuel. Efforts are underway to see if Travel and Tourism can help with the bill.
Bob Baker plans on bringing two P 51 Mustangs for a static display. Some civilian aircraft will be displayed
The Pratt Flyers, a radio controlled airplane club, and powered parachutes are also scheduled to attend.
The Committee is working on a possible fly-over for "Fifi" the only flying B-29 left in the world.
Breakfast will be served from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and lunch will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To learn more about the museum visit prairiebombers.org.