Photo: Michel Coté
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Geneseo Air Show, an event the warbird world in the East has come to know as the “Greatest Show on Turf”. As with every show held in this NewYork valley in the Finger Lakes Region since 1979, it was an unqualified success. My first visit to Geneseo dates back to 1987 and since that time I have been hooked on this unique air show event for two reasons – Firstly for the incredible vintage aircraft flying they always put on, but secondly and perhaps more importantly for way the people of Geneseo and the 1941 Historical Aircrtaft Group (HAG) Museum personnel greets you upon your arrival and the warmth they offer to all visitors.
I was so enamoured by their kindness and down-to-earth attitude, that I started spreading the word about this event to all my aviation friends – a sort of warbird evangelist. Since that weekend in 1979, I have made the trip to Livingston County each year to join all my aviation comrades, enthusiasts and event organizer friends. Like a big family reunion, we come together to share our passion for flight and vintage warbirds with each other -whether we are pilots, history buffs, modellers or photographers. There is no other place that provides you with this richness of experience, this kind of pleasure – all under the summer sun, in a relaxed ambiance and surrounded by the beautiful Geneseo River valley. Start with the family picnic atmosphere, bucolic country setting and mix in the incredible flying display HAG puts on every year and you have a recipe for pure thundering magic.
This past summer’s event was as good as ever featuring a tribute to naval aircraft. As always, HAG assembled a line-up of rare and historic aircraft that would be the envy of any other air show.
The beautifully finished Cessna Bobcat belonging to Tom Huf enjoys the last warm rays of the sun. Before the Second World War came to America on December 7th 1941, Cessna teetered at the edge of solvency. If it were not for Canada’s purchase of hundreds of Bobcats (Called Cranes up this way) for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, we would quite possibly not have the ubiquity of the 150 and 172 and the flash of the Citation business jet today. The BCATP and the Bobcat saved Cessna. Photo: Michel Coté
History of Historical Aircraft Group
The 1941 Aircraft Group was established in 1994 with the primary mission to continue with, organize and support the traditional air show based on the lovely “turf” air strip at the Geneseo airport and to highlight the classic aircraft of the past with a particular focus on Second World War aviation.
In the spring of 2001, the Group was granted a Provisional Museum Charter by the New York State Board of Regents. The group's Board of Trustees was increased to five members and its name was officially changed to the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group Museum, Inc..
Navy Blue – a colour that exudes competence in the landing component of flight. While there are aces in the Army Air Force and the Navy, it could be said that navy pilots outclassed all pilots in getting a fighter back home. Here a Grumman Hellcat belonging to the Commemorative Air Force (not nearly as evocative and cool a name as the Confederate Air force… but substantially more politically correct) and the Collings Foundation’s Corsair warm in the last light of the day aboard USS Geneseo. Photo: Michel Coté
The 2009 HAG Airshow at Geneseo
Dominating the flight line in 2009 were legendary naval aircraft of the Second World War – and what a selection there was. At the “heavy” end was Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s PBY Canso. Glen Goldman touched down on the “grass carrier” in Dave Tinker’s barrel-like Grumman TBM Avenger. The widely based Commemorative Air Force showed up with their rare Grumman F6F Hellcat and the one and only flying Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Sandy Thomson, a favourite visitor to Vintage Wings of Canada and the Classic Air Rallye, flew down from Canada in his massively powerful Hawker Sea Fury, trapping the “grass wire”. Mike Gillian’s rare Grumman FM-2 Wildcat was sandwiched in with three brutish blue Corsairs. Two of the legendary “bent-wing” fighters were Goodyear FG-1 models – one from the Fighter Factory in Virginia Beach and the other from the American Airpower Museum out of Farmingdale, New York on Long Island. Joining them was the Chance Vought F4U-5NL from the Collings Foundation in Stow, Massachusetts. This one was flown throughout the weekend by the legendary fighter-deity, Dale Snodgrass, who put together a stunning low level display featuring thundering low flybys in not only Collings Corsair but also in Warbirds of Long Island’s North American P-51D Mustang.
Mike Gillian taxies his Grumman Wildcat along the grass flightdeck of USS Geneseo. The Wildcat was for the first year of the Pacific war, the only USN or Marine fighter in operation (other than a brief and ignominious appearance by the Brewster Buffalo). It was outclassed by the nimble Japanese Zero in the combat scenario, but its ruggedness allowed it to continue in production until the end of the war. Replaced in fleet carrier operation by the Grumman Hellcat, it would
Other warbirds in attendance included the very rare B-25D Mitchell from the American Airpower Museum, the Spirit of Freedom’s gorgeous C-54 from the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, a Cessna Bobcat from Tom Huf, a Douglas DC-3 from Bill Dahler, HAG’s own Douglas C-47 Skytrain and Beech C-45 Expeditor, the world famous B-17 from the movie “Memphis Belle” and a large amount of trainers and liaison aircraft such as T-6s, Stearman biplanes. The Luftwaffe was represented by my friend Olivier Lacombe from Mascouche, Quebec in his FW-149.
Civilian acts provided some aerobatic entertainment between warbird sequences. These included such flying luminaries as Rob Holland, Jerry Wells with his Bucker Jungmeister, a Pitts special and Manfred Radius with his exquisitely beautiful glider act.
As a friend of Geneseo, author Coté enjoys the freedom to walk the flightline at sunset for those extraordinary images that twilight allows. Here, a tiny Aeronca Champ settles down for the night with the C-47 Skytrain of the Historic Aircraft Group. The name “Skytrain” conjures up images of an endless flying supply line of men and materiel – one of the main reasons the Nazis were defeated on the western front. Photo: Michel Coté
Modern military presence consisted of a NY National Guard Chinook, a NY ANG C-130 Hercules that participates every year and the USAF F-15 Strike Eagle which performed in the USAF Heritage Flight with the P-51 - an incredible flying display. The USAF Heritage flight always supplies the patriotic “yankee” spectators at show with an emotional flyby. Same goes to the salute to the veterans with a missing man formation performed by the Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association.
Other perennial acts which, once again, provided superb performance were the First World War bi-planes from the Great War Museum and the yellow thunder and amazing grace of the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team. I have seen them often, but they seem to be get better season after season. There is nothing more visual than to see three beautifully restored yellow Harvards doing their routine against a nice blue sky.
Of course the stars of the weekend were the Second World War fighters and bombers. Staggered in different schedules, the F6F Hellcat, FM-2 Wildcat and the SB2C Helldiver strutted their stuff, followed by the PBY Canso and the TBM Avenger. It felt like the Battle of Midway all over again!
A Boeing Stearman and Cessna Bobcat/Crane – two of the lesser known BCATP aircraft at sunset. The Stearman, while a great training aircraft and a mainstay of the USAAFs elementary training was woefully inadequate for the British commonwealth’s Air Training Plan – mostly from a winter operations perspective. Delivered to western BCATP bases early in the “Plan”, the Stearman airframes arrived with none of the promised winter modifications such as an enclosed cockpit and snow plow (just joking). Though miserable in the cold Alberta winter where they were employed, none the less, RCAF and RAF pilot trainees (like Ottawa’s Archie Pennie) considered them selves among a sort of elite who learned the basics of flying on the Stearman – a considerably larger aircraft than the Tiger Moth and Finch equivalents. The Stearmans were dropped from service and returned to the USA – probably at the request of instructors who were forced to endure their miseries more than most. Photo: Michel Coté
The B-25 Mitchell and its escort, the P-51 Mustang buzzed the airport while three Navy Corsairs provided top cover. Then, each broke off for individual flybys. On Sunday Dan Dameo and Dale Snodgrass executed a flawless performance with very smooth aerobatic routine, demonstrating just how elegant the Corsair is the air.
Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye. This is always a difficult thing at Geneseo, for they are like family.
Being deeply involved in the production of large-scale aviation events in Canada’s National Capital Region I fully understand how much work is required to provide a very warm and relaxing event – the proverbial calm duck above water – with feet going like crazy under the water.
There is no doubt that the Geneseo air show is as it is billed - The Greatest Show on Turf, not only for the breathtaking flying, but also the time spent with old friends, some who you know you won’t see again until next year.
Please mark your calendar on July 9-11 for the 2010 event. Once you get taste the warm atmosphere, cold beer and big round engines of the Geneseo airshow, you will be back every year - I guarantee it.
I will like to thank Graham, Michael Raftus, Greg and Anna Wadsworth pilots of the C-45, John Beart, Dan Dameo Corsair pilot and Jim Vocell B-25 pilot for setting up the air to air flight. Also all the volunteers, pilots and friends who make this, Geneseo’s 30th year a memorable weekend.
Keep ‘em flying
The great Beech C-45 Expeditor – one of the finest general light utility and multi engine training aircraft of the latter part of the Second World War but mostly of the two postwar decades. Its lumbering utility inspired a variety of sobriquets, mostly lovingly unflattering, such as the Bugsmasher, the Wichita Wobbler, The Twin Harvard and the Beech Exploder. The Royal Canadian Air Force had 366 Bugsmashers on strength at one time – far greater a number than the total aircraft strength of today’s Canadian Air Force. Hard to believe. Photo: Michel Coté
The 2009 USAF Heritage Flight. The Sound of Freedom 1945-style harmonizes with the Sound of Freedom 2000. A Merlin and two PW Turbofans bring tears to the eyes of “Yankee” spectators at Geneseo. Photo: Michel Coté
Three Corsairs await the setting of the sun. We can almost imagine the scene being on Vella La Cava and hear Pappy Boyington, Capt “Jim” Gutterman, and Lt. Don French smashing whiskey bottles and punching up the officer’s bar in the background while Boyington’s little terrier “Meatball” yaps away. Several of the surviving Corsairs today “starred” in Baa Baa Blacksheep, the televsion series of the 1970s – including both owned by Vintage Wings of Canada. Photo: Michel Coté
A tribute to the Geneseo’s importance on the warbird circuit, the Commemorative Air Force brought their Grumman Hellcat all the way from the Southern California Wing in Camarillo, CA. Nicknamed “Minsi III” this Hellcat is marked as that of Commander David MacCampbell of VF-19 on USS Essex. Rising sun kill marks on the fuselage indicate 30 aircraft destroyed by the six-time ace. Photo: Michel Coté
You don’t see these every day – the world’s only flying Curtiss SB2C Helldiver taxies after trapping aboard USS Geneseo. With one of the finest and scariest names given an aircraft of the Second World War (bringing to mind Johnny Weissmuller with flames coming from his trunks), the Helldiver was…well… no hell. The Helldiver was a perfect example of the old adage that an aircraft flies as good as it looks. Lovingly (maybe) called the Son of Bitch Second Class (SB2C), the Helldiver saw service throughout the war with more than 1,000 being manufactured in Canada. Both England and Australia rejected the Helldiver for poor, nay “appalling”, handling. Regardless, the Helldiver owns a deserved place in aviation history with more tonnage of shipping sunk than any other aircraft. This example belongs to the West Texas Wing of the CAF and flies in the markings of CV-13 attached to USS Franklin. Photo: Michel Coté
A threesome of Navy Blue Corsairs sweep in for a thundering 54-cylinder photo-op reminiscent of the TV show Baa Baa Blacksheep. Photo: Michel Coté
Dan Dameo powers down the show line in the American Air Power Museum’s Goodyear FG-1D Corsair. Photo: Michel Coté
The HAG’s slick-looking C-47 Skytrain ploughs through the humid Geneseo air and rolls a wing up for a photo pass. This particular Skytrain took part in D-Day operations and is marked to commemorate her important role on that auspicious day. The HAG volunteers and sponsors are doing their level best to keep this piece of Americana flying for all to see. Photo: Ray Step
Re-enactment is an important part of the warbird scene in the USA, reminding us that people, not machines are the important ingredient then makes a warbird a warbird. Here airmen in period flying gear lend an air of authenticity to the beautiful C-47 Skytrain. Photo: Michel Coté
Wildcat, Hellcat, Helldiver… naval aviation had the best names and in most cases some of the best aircraft of the Second World War. Photo John Baert
Olivier Lacombe, one of the authors’s good friends made the trip down from Mascouche, Québec to represent the Luftwaffe. Lacombe is a regular performer at the Classic Air Rallye and Vintage Wings of Canada events. The immaculate detail and finish of his Focke Wulfe FW-149 never fail to draw a crowd. Here, Olivier warms up and readies for his flyby. Phot: Ray Step
The best seat in the house. From the side window of the HAG Beech “Exploder”, author Coté brings his camera to bear on a wonderful sight – the highly-polished and rare Nroth American B-25D Mitchell medium bomber called “Mis-Hap” flown by Jim Vocell and trailed by a Corsair called “Skyboss”– both from the American Air Power Museum in Farmingdale, Long Island. What a wonderful backdrop the Geneseo Valley makes – removing all indications of the 21st century and placing us back in time. The sobriquet “Mis-Hap” and the markings are those of the “personal” Mitchell of USAAF commander General Hap Arnold.