The pilots huddled around the tabled in a cramped break room at the Great Bend Municipal airport Saturday evening. As if preparing for a military operation, they planned how the two World War II war birds would coordinate their passes over downtown Great Bend as part of the dedication of the Jack Kilby statues.
Rolled out between them was a satellite photo of the area and an aerial shot of the Barton County Courthouse Square, the scene of the celebration and their target. They calculated distances and times involved, deciding to wait for a call from Great Bend Municipal Airport Manager Martin Miller before leaving.
Miller would be at the dedication and notify them when the opening prayer started. That was the signal to scramble so they would make their first pass as the National Anthem concluded.
“Let’s go do this,” said Larry “Lumpy” Lumpkin, pilot of the P-51D Mustang, nicknamed “Gunfighter.” With that, they walked out into the gray, chilly spring dusk and climbed into their gleaming machines.
The massive engines roared to life as the planes taxied to their starting positions. First, the slower camouflaged C-45, a personnel transport craft dating back to 1943, launched, followed by the green and sliver Mustang, a fighter built in 1945.
The pull of the increased G-forces kicked in on the crews as the planes left the runway. Nearly wing tip to wing tip, they banked and climbed into formation.
From the cockpits, the ground below resembled the satellite photo from the briefing, the fields reduced to a patchwork quilt of greens, browns and yellows. As the planes came about, the playset-like downtown Great Bend spread before them.
Both made their pass, then the Mustang climbed sharply, circled around and came back for another, faster run.
In support of the Kilby ceremony, Miller obtained the services of Lumpkin, a professional airline pilot out of Omaha, Neb., and the C-45 Expeditor flown by Gregg Downing and Scott Davis of Guymon, Okla. Both aircraft are World War II vintage, now working with the Commemorative Air Force.
“The pilots are good acquaintances from the air show circuit,” Miller said. On Saturday, they arrived in the late afternoon.
Original plans called for a military fly-over, but that fell through. So, Miller contacted his CAF buddies.
Miller said these pilots will return to Great Bend in September to show their aircraft and sell rides. They’re among a group of headliners at the Great Bend Air Festival and World War II Remembrance, Sept. 21-23.
Rides will also be sold on the B-25 Maid in the Shade, AC-47 Spooky, PT-23, and UC-78, all of World War II Vintage. Stearman Bi-planes are also scheduled. A 1940s dance event is also planned.
Anyone who would like to purchase a ride in these aircraft for themselves or others can call Miller at 620 793-4168.