Washingtonians and tourists who turn to the skies late Friday morning on the National Mall may be excused if they think they’ve somehow been recruited as extras in a World War II movie, as dozens of historic fighter planes and bombers take flight to mark the 75th anniversary of the war’s end.
The “Arsenal of Democracy Flyover” commemorates end of World War II. The program will send about 60 vintage combat aircraft over the Potomac River and the Mall in a sequence representing major air campaigns of the war. The lineup includes the Spitfires and Hurricanes that defended England during 1940s Battle of Britain and a pair of B-29 Superfortresses similar to the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan in August 1945.
“The 75th anniversary of the end of World War II is a historic milestone and it is important that we recognize the service and sacrifice of our heroes, from the battlefield to the home front,” said Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and an executive committee member of the Arsenal of Democracy.
The group will fly from Virginia over the Potomac River to the Lincoln Memorial, continue over the National Mall, and then will circle the World War II Memorial and re-cross the river back to Virginia. A pre-flight program begins at 10 a.m. and the first formations in the hour-long program will arrive around 11:30 a.m.
The flyover was originally scheduled for May to mark the victory over Nazi Germany but — along with scores of other public events — was scrubbed because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The committee modified the program to address any COVID-19 health concerns, including suspending a Washington gala and restricting any public viewing of the planes. The teams of air and ground crews, along with support volunteers, at the staging bases will be closely monitored, organizers said.
“Recent flyovers around the country have uplifted spirits and we aim to do the same while honoring our Greatest Generation,” Mr. Bunce said. “Rest assured that the health and safety of our participants and spectators, especially our World War II veterans, is of utmost importance.”
The Dallas-based Commemorative Air Force, is supplying several of the aircraft used in Friday’s flyover. They also participated in the 2015 event that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Leah Block, a vice president with the organization, said it was important for the event to be held this year, even with the belated start.
“You can’t do the 75th on the 76th,” Ms. Block said. “We felt very strongly about that.”
The vintage airplanes on display Friday are all based in the United States. A contingent from Canada was to have been part of the flyover but stayed home because of the virus fears.
Organizers say sending 60 combat aircraft through some of the most restricted airspace in the world is no simple task — even if the planes can be considered senior citizens. Every aircraft was closely examined and anyone involved had to go through background checks.
“There was just intricate coordination going on because the space that they’ll be flying is secure,” Ms. Block said.
The window to honor the veterans before they pass away is closing. While public viewing events have been restricted this year, Ms. Block said it was incredible to watch World War II veterans — most in their 90s — react when they encounter the vintage warbirds.
“They get a sparkle in their eyes. The airplanes are bringing back memories of their youth,” she said. “It’s just very hard to describe.”
Several P-40 Warhawks will be among the first group of fighters to make their way down the Potomac. On Dec. 7, 1941, two young Army Corps pilots, Lt. George Welch and Lt. Kenneth Taylor, were returning from a Christmas party when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. They climbed into their P-40 Warhawks and shot down at least six Japanese planes that morning.
It was a small victory in what was otherwise a “Day of Infamy” for America.
Other planes in the flyover will include the sturdy and reliant Grumman Wildcat that played a central role in the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Douglas A-26 invader, a ground attack light bomber that helped beat back the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge.
About 30 different private owners or aviation organizations are part of this year’s D.C. flyover. One of the owners is from San Diego and his plane also took part in the recent Victory over Japan commemoration in Hawaii.
“It means a lot to the pilots who are involved. They did everything they could to be here,” Ms. Block said. “It’s very special.”
Those who cannot attend the event in person can watch a livestream on Facebook at Facebook.com/ww2flyover.