By John Cinnamon
On the morning of June 7, 90-year-old Bob Bennett, along with his wife, made the trip from their home in Franklin, Ind., to the Indianapolis Metro Airport in Fishers for the Warbird Expo 2014. Bennett’s interest in the day-long display of vintage aircraft – many from World War II – was twofold. Seventy years ago, Bennett was part of a B26 Squadron in the 9th Air Force stationed in England right before D-Day, so these planes were very familiar to him. And more personally, one of the planes featured at the event is owned by Bennett’s son, John.
“My interest in aviation probably comes from my dad,” said the younger Bennett, a Noblesville resident and member of the Indiana Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), the organization responsible for the Warbird Expo. John Bennett’s plane is a 1943 Stearman PT-13D, an aircraft that was used to train military pilots from 1944 to 1947, and the very kind of plane in which his father may have trained.
Warbird Expo 2014, now in its second year in Fishers, traces its roots to 1981 when the Indiana CAF held its first air show in Columbus, Ind.
“That first air show 33 years ago was a smashing success,” said Dennis Schell, Volunteer Wing Leader of the Indiana CAF. “They couldn’t even handle all the people that showed up.” Two years later it moved to the Mount Comfort Airport where it was run by the CAF as the Warbird Air Show for several years, before being taken over by another non-profit organization and became the Indianapolis Air Show. That organization and air show disbanded two years ago.
This created an opening for the Indiana CAF.
“With our interest in honoring veterans, exhibiting former military aircraft, and introducing youth to aviation,” said Schell, “we decided to start a Warbird-only event.” In addition to vintage aircraft, the free show also included military vehicles, airplane rides, and WWII speakers.
Schell, a captain in the U.S. Air Force who flew No-Fly-Zone enforcement missions over Iraq in the ‘90s as an F-15E Weapons Systems Officer, explained that the Commemorative Air Force started in Texas in 1957, with the Indiana Wing joining in 1978. Besides the Warbird Expo in Fishers, the Indiana CAF visits 15 to 18 airport open houses and air shows every year throughout the Midwest.
In 1944, Bob Bennett flew his B26 across the English Channel. So the drive from Franklin to Fishers was a comparatively short trip to see his son and commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.