Everyone will be looking skyward at the Kendall-Tamiami Airport this weekend, as the crowd is transported back 60 years. Some of the very same airplanes that exchanged gunfire and dropped bombs on Europe and Asia during World War II will be kissing the clouds and swooping down over the runways. It's going to be a weekend of warbirds -- as old-time military aircraft are affectionately called -- restored to their original glory. The propellers will be roaring, the fresh paint glinting in the sun.
The Weeks Air Museum, dedicated to preserving and restoring aircraft from the early part of the century, sponsors the aerial history lesson as part of its second annual Antique, Classic, and Warbird Invitational Fly-In. Anyone with a vintage aircraft (civilian models are welcome, too) can come show it off. Last year's event drew 40 planes, a turnout organizers expect to top. Also on exhibit will be the eighteen fighters and bombers from the museum's collection, most of which saw action during WWII.
Although much of the aircraft will remain grounded during the invitational, aviation buffs will be treated to flybys and displays of formation flying. If you're lucky enough to win a raffle or willing to cough up as much as 200 bucks, you can even go up for a ride. "We want to show this is a living museum, and not just some dusty museum," says director Vincent Tirado. "The planes are alive. You can see them functioning in their natural environment. You can smell them and hear the noise."
Even on land the restored aircraft are quite a sight: hulking streaks of steel punctuated by bright military stars. They're works of art, and they're also artifacts that can be worth more than one million dollars. After the Second World War, the United States destroyed most of its warbirds to save on storage expenses. Some were smelted into pots and pans. "Their numbers have been decimated," Tirado says. "There's only a fraction of a fraction left."
The museum's collection will be one of the weekend's biggest attractions. Those tired of craning their necks to gaze at the flybys can step into the sprawling hangar that houses the planes. Visitors can get close enough to see the array of dials and buttons inside the cockpits, or the dents and rust on fuselages that haven't been restored. Among the must-sees is a Curtiss TP-40-N (named for Florida aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss), the only one of its kind left, that's in the final stages of restoration. The green fighter plane will soon look exactly as it did during its heyday, down to the tiny stencil markings on the wings and the black labels on the wiring. "This aircraft is WWII," Tirano says. "It's got a million details we have to worry about. And it's all got to fly again."