June 13, 2017, Pungo, Virginia – Driving down a country road, a silhouette banks in the air just in front of me. I quickly rolled down my window to hear the melodious growl of a P-40 rolling across the sky. This is music to my ears. I smiled and waved with the excitement of a child as it passed overhead. We’re almost there! I can see the red and white checkered water tower that sits to the side of the grass strip runway located at the Military Aviation Museum (MAM) in Pungo, Virginia. I was on site for the seventh annual performance of the Flying Proms airshow.
There are very few places left in the world that can really turn back time. This museum helps you re-live a special moment from a time long past. There are many places that offer hangar tours with varied and unique aircraft, but few can tout the claims that this one can. MAM is home to the largest private collection of WW1 and WW2 planes in the world. A magical place to visit, where almost every plane is airworthy. From the Fokker’s to the P-51 Mustang, you can enjoy the sounds of the various engines at events held throughout the year.
Taken from similar events in the UK, the Flying Proms is the only event of its kind in North America. The Flying Proms combines the aerial expertise and precision flying of vintage planes, with musical interpretations of period movie themes by the Symphonicity Orchestra (of Virginia Beach).
You’re in for a treat if you visit, not only because of the wonderful variety of multi-era planes, but also the grass strip runway, with a lovely backdrop of trees. It is one of the most inviting I’ve had the privilege of seeing. It’s one of the few places where you can get up close and personal with the aircraft. There are no orange cones or barriers to take away from your photos or experience. The only rule is…….Just don’t touch!
At the large open field near the runway, you could see the orchestra tent set up and ready to go. There is no assigned seating for this event, bringing your blanket, chairs, picnic basket and tiki torches is the recommendation. Sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacular sounds of the area orchestra playing some of your favorite war movie tunes like, Flight of the Intruder, A Bridge too Far, Midway to name a few. This incredibly romantic adventure should be on everyone’s date night list!
Come early, as many of the aircraft not participating in the evening event are scattered around the outer rim of the field. You can ogle and pose for pictures beside them until your hear is content. Even the rare and wonderful de Havilland Mosquito graced us outside of the hangar that evening……..sitting there in all of her glory. I had hoped she’d be flying on that night. It was still a privilege to lay eyes on her. What a marvelous restoration she is and a sight to behold in person! She is one of two surviving air worthy examples.
Another bright spot was the de Havilland Rapide in her stunning red, white and blue color scheme. She’s a standout in the crowd. Her height and colors dim the other planes surrounding her. I marvel at what it must have been like to travel the skies in such a lovely aircraft. Even by today’s standard, she’s a stunning work of art.
The evening events began with the American National Anthem. The last notes were drowned out by the deep growl of the AD-4 Skyraider as it took to the skies. Loud cheers radiate from the crowds that had gathered to watch and listen to this live motion picture….aircraft leap from celluloid to real life right before our very eyes.
The P-40 Warhawk and the Yakovlev dance in the skies in a mesmerizing pattern to and fro, emulating a dog fight overhead as the orchestra plays the accompaniment.
There was a sense of awe and magic that fills the air when the World War I aircraft take to air. The pilots, with their long white scarfs floating in the wind, were picture perfect of a time long past. This imagery gave a sense of timely transformation as Hells Angels, Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64, Andante Cantabile by Tchaikovsky played intensely in the background.
The Halberstadt Cl. IV and Fokker D. VII’s circled above in pairs as the setting sun gave off a warm summer glow against their graceful, fabric exteriors. The slow, yet amazingly graceful aircraft, move through the air with an aura of mystery as, I’m sure, they did a century ago. It’s simply incredible to think about the technology that was engineered to create these wonderful flying machines. Getting a chance to witness these in person is a special kind of sorcery.
The first half of the show wouldn’t be complete without the World War II planes getting a chance to show off their muscles. It’s remarkable to see how much military aircraft changed between the World Wars. Those first “flying contraptions” paved the way for the likes of these beauties. They are as lovely on the outside as they are strong, fierce and deadly on the inside. The Focke-Wulf Fw 190A, the North American P-51D Mustang, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX, the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat and the TBM Avenger took to the heavens with thunderous growls that capture everyone’s attention.
One by one, they landed as the sun set. Once on the grass field, the performing aircraft were positioned right in front of the spectators. This gave us an opportunity for closer inspection during intermission. The pilots stand next to their aircraft and wait anxiously to provide eager attendees answers to questions. We had the privilege of speaking to each of the pilots and ask questions about the aircraft itself. This is a chance to know what it’s like to fly one of these lovely warbirds, and this was the time to ask.
The night ended with the orchestra playing The Stars & Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa, culminating with a barrage of fireworks behind the aircraft, just across the runway. If a child was bored or fell asleep during the second half, they joyously awoke and cheered the explosions that burst in the air, one after another to close out a wonderfully spectacular evening.
I realized that throughout the day, my initial childlike reaction to the aircraft flying overhead never diminished. I’m still awe struck by the vast array of amazing aircraft that graced the skies on that evening. Not to mention, the moving performances of the Symphonicity Orchestra, which made it even more fulfilling by setting emotion to the scene around us. This is one museum that should be on your bucket list. It’s absolutely worth the trip, no matter where you live.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Angela Sells for sharing this great story and fabulous photos! Read and see more of her work on her blog here: http://southernflygirl.com/
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