Air show emphasizes old warbirds, new jobs

By Wayne Bryan Published April 13, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Matt Conrad, a commercial pilot from St. Louis, waves to the crowd as he takes off in Show Me, a B-25 bomber, during last year’s Aerospace Day at Hot Springs Memorial Field Airport. This year, three World War II airplanes will be at the airport event Saturday. The Commemorative Air Force will offer “living history” rides, for a fee, on Thursday afternoon, Friday, Saturday and the morning of April 20.

HOT SPRINGS — For airplane lovers, Aerospace Day at Hot Springs Memorial Field is a chance to take a close look at and even touch a variety of airplanes on the ground, and to take a short flight on a World War II bomber.

For others coming to the airport event on Saturday, there will be opportunities for talking about careers in the aerospace industry. Representatives of companies involved in flight and two schools that offer training in building, maintaining and flying aircraft will be there to meet with perspective students.

“Aerospace jobs are available right now, right here in Hot Springs,” said George Downie, the Hot Springs airport’s director. “These jobs often become careers, as people tend to stay in the field once they receive the training they need.”

Troy Hogue, director of Henderson State University’s aviation department, said the school will have its mobile flight simulator and several of its training aircraft at the event.

“The simulator’s something,” Hogue said. “With it you can set almost any airport, any kind of plan and any weather condition and give a true feel of flying a plane.”

The simulator will be at the Henderson information booth.

Henderson State is the only four-year school in Arkansas that offers a bachelor’s degree in aviation in three programs — professional pilot; aviation management, combining flight and business; and maintenance management.

Henderson will provide airplanes and pilots for the Young Eagle program, giving school-age children an opportunity to fly in a general-aviation airplane for free.

“The Young Eagle Experience is an opportunity to sit next to a pilot during a flight,” Hogue said. “[The rides] are offered to create interest in flying, not only as a pilot working in the industry, but perhaps they will come to Henderson for their training.”

National Park Community College’s workforce development department offers various airframe and powerplant (A&P) programs and will provide information about and registration instructions for their programs at the NPCC information booth at the airplane show.

The school’s second Introduction to Aerospace class will meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, starting May 6 and concluding Oct. 16 at NPCC in Hot Springs, said Jill Johnson, director of community relations at the two-year school. The program combines classroom instruction and hands-on activities that include safety maintenance practices, shop math, aircraft blueprints, the use of hand tools, precision measuring, aircraft structural materials, aircraft hardware, aircraft sheet metal, composites and maintenance-manual interpretation.

“This event is 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,” Downie said.

The airport director further said the aerospace industry has outpaced rice as the state’s top export.

Representatives from various companies will also have information booths at the event. In addition, AAR Aircraft Services at the airport will provide facility tours, and Western Pilot Inc., also at the airport, will give an air-tanker water-drop demonstration.

For many attending Aerospace Day, the main attraction will be three World War II airplanes.

The B-25 Mitchell Bomber, named Show Me, will arrive Thursday and will offer “living history” rides on the type of aircraft that was used in the famous 1942 bombing of Tokyo. The daring mission brought the war to the Japanese capital just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The plane belongs to the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, located near St. Louis. The plane has appeared at both the previous Aerospace Day events at the Hot Springs airport.

Also returning will be a TBM-3 Avenger Torpedo Bomber used by the Navy during World War II. The Missouri Avenger is painted with a pilot designation for Lt. j.g. George H.W. Bush. The future president won the Distinguished Flying Cross when he released his payload and hit his target after his Avenger was hit by enemy aircraft. He crashed at sea and was rescued by a submarine.

Last year, the aircraft was flown to Hot Springs by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., a member of the Commemorative Air Force.

“That greatest generation, and the many who gave their lives, did so for our freedom,” Graves said last year while in Hot Springs. “We get to keep telling their story.”

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

New to the flying history coming to Hot Springs is the Missouri Wing’s 1941 U.S. Army Aeronca L-3E Defender observation aircraft, named Lil Show Me. It fulfilled various roles throughout World War II, including observation of enemy troop movements and directing artillery fire. Because of its ability to land and take off on rough terrain, the pilots and planes became known as “Grasshoppers.”

The L-3E and TBM-3 will remain on the ground so those attending the show can walk about the planes and look inside, while pilots and crew are there to answer questions. Flights on the B-25 can be reserved in advance by calling the CAF at (314) 486-1205.

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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