Aircraft displays show history, promote more aerospace jobs

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published April 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 10, 2013 at 9:18 a.m.
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Matt Conrad, a commercial pilot from St. Louis, was one of the pilots of Show Me!, the B-25 bomber on display Saturday during Aerospace Day at Hot Springs Memorial Field Airport. Two World War II airplanes were at the airport event from the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a volunteer organization that restores, flies and displays old military aircraft as a living museum.

Boys and girls climbed aboard a couple of World War II aircraft Friday evening and Saturday — standing near a gunner’s position or in the co-pilot’s seat — experiencing some of the history and excitement of flight.

“If we can get one young person interested in flight and give them some understanding of the history of these planes, we have done our jobs,” said Chris Herrmann, a retired military pilot and a volunteer member of the Commemorative Air Force. He flew the restored B-25 bomber Show Me! to Hot Springs on Friday from near St. Louis.

“Our mission is to carry this piece of living history to people across the country,” he said.

Hundreds of area residents came Saturday to Hot Springs Memorial Field to see, and even touch, a variety of aircraft during Aerospace Day at the airport. The day is a major recruiting event for Arkansas companies that make and maintain aircraft parts, along with schools that train people to fly and work on aircraft.

George Downie, director of the airport, said the aerospace industry has outpaced rice as the state’s No. 1 export.

“Aerospace jobs are available right now, right here in Hot Springs,” Downie said. “It was an opportunity for someone, maybe a high school student, or an individual thinking of switching to a new career, to consider a local industry that offers a high-paying job.”

Several aerospace companies had information tables at the event for prospective employees. In addition, National Park Community College in Hot Springs and Henderson State University in Arkadelphia provided information for prospective students.

NPCC offers a six-week certification program in sheet metal for aircraft, along with other airframe and powerplant manufacturing and aircraft maintenance.

The HSU Aviation Department brought its flight simulator to give visitors a feel for flying, while student pilots gave tours of the school training aircraft, letting those interested get a look from the pilot’s seat.

But it was the two bombers brought in by the Commemorative Air Force that drew the crowds. Matt Conrad of St. Louis, who was another pilot for the B-25, said the aircraft not only taught history to the young but brought back memories for others.

He has a uncle in Garland County who was a B-17 pilot in World War II. Conrad said Saturday was his uncle’s 95th birthday and many in his family had come to Hot springs to be with him.

Herrmann spoke of “the B-17 guy” to reporters and related how, during a ride in the bomber, Conrad’s uncle spoke of the experience bringing back memories the man shared with family and friends.

“That is one of the examples of why this living history is important,” Herrmann said.

Honoring men like the elderly B-17 pilot and others who served in the war is the main reason he and other volunteers keep the old warbirds flying.

“That greatest generation, and the many who gave their lives, did so for our freedom,” said U.S. Representative Sam Graves, R-Mo., a CAF member who flew the surprisingly large, blue Navy Avenger torpedo bomber to Hot Springs. “We get to keep telling their story.”

The congressman called it an honor to be able to fly the Avenger and other World War II aircraft restored and preserved by the Commemorative Air Force.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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