MT. COMFORT — Charles Ingram ran his hand along the sparkling surface of the B-25 bomber, peering up into the glass nose of the aircraft — a reminder of triumph, of tragedy, for the World War II veteran.
Ingram, 92, of Dayton, Ohio, was among about 8,000 spectators who traveled to the Indianapolis Regional Airport for the Warbird Expo, an event organized by the Indiana Commemorative Air Force, a branch of a national nonprofit that honors veterans and maintains aircraft.
The show, now in its fourth year, featured dozens of historic WWII-era war planes, including classics, like the P-51 Mustang, an iconic two-seat aircraft, and the B-25 bomber, made famous during the U.S. raid on Tokyo after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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Events kicked off Friday with a youth camp and fundraiser to benefit veterans’ organizations and opened to the public all day Saturday.
Though the occasion didn’t draw the same 100,000-plus spectator crowds that the now defunct Indianapolis Air Show, which was held annually at the local airport until its cancellation in 2013, it helped fill a void for local and regional aviation enthusiasts who had missed the annual event.
John Mackey of Greenfield, who saw the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team perform several times at the former air show, said Saturday’s event offered a different appeal.
Though the pilots didn’t rip through the skies in the precise formations that the Blue Angels once did, Mackey, who served in the Navy for 17 years, said the show was a tribute to the pilots who pioneered military aviation.
And planes still made it into the sky.
“Seeing some of these planes roaring to life and getting into the air, you can’t beat that,” Mackey said.
Mark Van Zant, spokesman for the Indiana Commemorative Air Force and the event’s lead organizer, said the organization plans to establish the local airport as the new venue for the show, which was formerly at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport in Fishers.
Though organizers saw a slight dip in attendance compared to last year’s show, which drew 10,000, Van Zant said he expects to gain attendance as the event returns to the area in coming years, and fans learn of its new home.
On Saturday, members of the Commemorative Air Force led presentations about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first designated group of only African-American military pilots.
Col. Charles McGee, 96, a Tuskegee Airman who flew more than 400 combat missions during WWII, Vietnam and the Korean War, was honored in person at the event.
For Ingram, who worked as a mechanic in the Air Force for nine years before pursuing a career in the auto industry, the opportunity to see the planes in person again drew up memories he thought he’d lost, he said.
As a line of planes prepared for takeoff in front of a crowd of spectators Saturday morning, Ingram stood with his daughter, Chelsea Mathers, who brought her 5-year-old, Jayden — a budding aviator, his grandfather joked.
The whine of the warbirds as they swept past the crowd of spectators was dazzling, Ingram said.
“Haven’t heard that noise in nearly six decades,” Ingram said.
The trip was enlightening for Mathers, too. Her father rarely shared stories about his military service when he returned from war, but Saturday’s event brought so much tumbling back. Though Ingram still doesn’t talk about the dark days of the war, Mathers said hearing stories about the camaraderie among soldiers was illuminating.
Throughout the day, spectators had the opportunity to tour several planes and explore a WWII-era camp set up by reenactment groups.
Planes cycled on and off the tarmac over the course of the afternoon.
Jacob Simpson of Indianapolis, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, closed his eyes as the warbirds swept past the crowd, making low-level loops around surrounding fields.
Although many of the planes predated those used during early 1970s when Jacobs fought, they serve as a reminder of what inspired him to enlist in Army, he said.
“These planes and the men who flew them, that’s what won us the war,” Jacobs said.
But Simpson said the event does a lot for younger generations, too. He hopes it inspires those with a budding interest in aviation — whether as a mechanic, engineer or pilot — to pursue a future career.
“It’s events like these — where you can actually walk up and touch the aircraft — that can really spark an interest for the younger ones,” Simpson said.