Diversity + Passion

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Are Jennys Warbirds? Revisited - Warbirds Defined

August 2015 - I got caught last month just flying along, and then, in a shattering fusillade of .50-caliber words, a proud EAAer shot me down. I had a pretty specific way of identifying aircraft to keep them separate, and unfortunately I spawned a few e-mails that were totally correct in their retorts to me regarding what was a warbird! I get it! And I stand corrected today, a better scribe before you.

However, it is interesting that even in the correcting response, labels get misused. The battle without end is in how we identify and categorize the very planes we display. So from my education, here are the words, direct from someone who cared to respond. Mike, thank you so much for your e-mail. From our WOA page, here is the gospel:

“What started out as a club for World War II fighter owners has now blossomed into an organization whose members own and fly the whole gamut of ex-military aircraft—from the old biplanes, trainers, fighters, bombers, and liaisons of World War II to the early jets of the Korean War era to the aircraft of the Vietnam War. Even foreign aircraft are not left out. Former adversaries’ warbirds are now highly prized airplanes. It is our aim, and our motto, to ‘keep ’em flying.’

“Most of the warbirds we see at air shows and other gatherings are owned by individuals and museums. It is the determination to fly these high-performance airplanes, combined with the desire for preserving a piece of our heritage, that makes these owners want to display these magnificent machines. Unlike going to a museum and merely viewing these aircraft, one can now see, hear, feel and even smell what it was like to fly and maintain the birds when they were working for a living.”

To stimulate more discussion, Mike asked if I could define warbirds for this installment.

Warbird: Any ex-military aircraft, restored, original, or reproduction replica aircraft, operated by a civilian, military preservation arm, or government preservation agency for the purposes of historical preservation and living history experiences.

Further expounding the term, we can add any of various winged or non-winged vehicles capable of flight, generally heavier than air and driven by jet engines or propellers (but not limited to heavier than air as the possibility of a Paul Allen-backed ZPG-3W-winning Grand Champion must exist) that saw military service in any military arm of any country or accepted nation state since the first true warbird operation of 1794. The L’Intrépide currently survives in a Vienna museum, and thus is the first aircraft eligible for WOA membership.

Further, there are civilian types built for non-military purposes that are to be called warbirds (see Grumman G-58, etc.). This definition is not limiting; however, any non-military aircraft built for civilian purposes and painted in military colors is not a warbird. A straight-tail Bonanza could be modified into a warbird representing a QU-22B but would have to match the military configuration, not just be painted as such, for admission.

I may get some flak for the replica or reproduction aircraft being included, but that’s unjustified. A Cole Palen Sopwith Camel or Albatross or JN-4 Jenny is a warbird and allows us to see, hear, and feel what it must have been like. We live in an amazing time when a P-6E was created to rebirth a type long extinct, and that Ralph Rosanik effort spawned a brilliant run of Me 262 and Ki-43 aircraft that are, in every sense of the word, true warbirds.


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