Thousands enjoy Eielson air show

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2003

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE (AP) Thousands of people walked the flight line at Eielson Air Force Base and got a chance to see both vintage and high-tech aircraft up close.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people saw aircraft ranging from gliders to fighters and cargo planes to Army helicopters.

After not having an air show for five years, Eielson's 2003 Northern Thunder air show on Wednesday gave the public a free glimpse of what the military does and some of the equipment they use.

Canadian Bill Davie, a self-proclaimed aviation buff, cried out in amazement at each tumbling maneuver performed by aerobatic pilot Greg Poe flying an Edge 540.

Davie and his two friends, Dale LeBeau and Max Lane, who are both retirees from Michigan, watched as the small red plane cartwheeled in the air.

Poe's plane then spiraled straight up in the air in a maneuver named the corkscrew, then fell backward.

''Watch this,'' Davie prepped his friends, just before the plane kicked out and righted itself. ''That's awesome flying.''

The air show also gave C-130 pilot Capt. Joe Framptom stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base a chance to crawl around the nose of a B-25 Mitchell Bomber that flew missions in the Mediterranean Theater during World War II.

''This airplane is a piece of history,'' Framptom said after he climbed from the bottom of the aircraft. ''To see it, let alone crawl around in it, is a real treat.''

Inside, 1st Lt. Joe Turnham, an A-10 pilot at Eielson, was talking to the bomber's co-pilot, Minnesotan Kurt Koukkari.

''He'd like to fly this and I would sure love to fly the A-10,'' Koukkari said while he sat in the cockpit in the upper deck and Turnham stood in the body of the plane.

While they were talking inside, Roby Bybee, a colonel and crew chief with the 310th Bomb Group based out of Fleming Filed in South St. Paul, Minn., was busy replacing spark plugs and talking to people who wandered up to the silver and glass bomber.

''Jets don't have these things on them,'' Bybee told a little girl while pointing to the large propellers on the twin-engine plane built in 1944.

The 310th is part of the Minnesota branch of the Commemorative Air Force, which restores World War II aircraft to working condition, then flies them to different aviation shows.

The old bomber was restored because the original crew chief, Tech. Sgt. Ray Ostlie, is a member of the Minnesota unit, Bybee said. The WWII veteran's name is painted on the side of the vintage aircraft, right above the painting of a buxom blonde. Bybee said the original artist repainted the beauty when the bomber was restored.

On the opposite side, about 30 bombs marked the number of missions over Corsica and North Africa the plane flew near the end of the war.

The original six- to eight-member crew that flew at that time consisted of a pilot, co-pilot and a navigator pilot, a bombardier in the nose, a radio man, a turret gunner posted in a bubble at the top of the aircraft and one, possibly two gunners in the back.

Now, the crew consists of volunteers, all with the rank of colonel in the Commemorative Air Force.

''That way we don't have to salute each other,'' Bybee said, laughing.

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