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Restored planes
honor WWII history

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A roaring trio of restored, World War II-era airplanes will touch down at Tara Field Saturday.

Brought to the Southern Crescent by the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), these vintage warbirds are monuments to history and heroism.

"The planes are loud, the propellers are impressive, and there's just this sense of romance," said Chris Madrid, spokesman for the CAF. "We want to connect people with their history. It reminds you of your grandfather, and the stories he would tell and the stories you always wanted him to tell."

Three of these airplanes -- possibly the P-51 Mustang, the LT-6 Mosquito and the PT-26, though that's subject to change, are set to be at Tara Field in Hampton, from 9 a.m., to 5 p.m., on Saturday. The CAF is offering rides in the airplanes, offering "armchair aviators and World War II history buffs" the chance the fly in what the American soldiers flew in WWII.

"We believe the best way to preserve the legacy of 'The Greatest Generation' is to allow the public to see and hear these machines in flight, or experience a ride in an aircraft that changed the course of history," said Keith Wood, leader of the CAF Dixie Wing.

The Georgia group is 21 years old, part of the 50-year-old national non-profit dedicated to the WWII planes -- restoring them, flying them, and honoring the legacy of the men who fought in them.

"For me," Madrid said, "it's more than just an airplane [and] a piece of metal. It's part of history and four years that totally changed American history ... We believe we are stewards of American history. Bringing these historic aircraft to Hampton will allow us to share our heritage with the public."

There were more than 300,000 airplanes produced during the war years, but today the few remaining "warbirds" are mostly owned by museums and private collectors. The CAF is one of the only groups offering the opportunity to fly in the airplanes.

Madrid said there's been a resurgence of interest in WWII since the release of the movie "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998. There's been a feeling of urgency for amateur and professional historians, as the "Greatest Generation" is dying. Madrid said an estimated 1,200 WWII veterans die every day.

Prices for rides vary, but start at $95. The money helps keep up the planes, which require constant repair and maintenance. Repairs can cost up to $125,000, if an engine has to be replaced.

Saturday's aircraft showcase will be presented in conjunction with a "Trains, Planes and Automobiles" exhibit, which is being sponsored by the Hampton Downtown Development Authority. The event will feature a number of displays, including those by the Central Georgia Model Railroad Club and the North Georgia Model Railroad Club, at the Hampton Train Depot.

According to Patti Battle, Hampton's better hometown manager, kids in attendance will get a first-hand opportunity to see the machines in action. "One of the displays will be interactive," said Battle. "Children will be able to come in and operate the trains."

Other scheduled attractions for children include a trackless train, which will ride through the city's downtown area.

For automobile enthusiasts, a car show will be held at the event, with judging to begin at 5 p.m.

Battle said those preferring to put their vehicles to use in a different way, will have their chance to do so for a worthy cause. "You can actually buy a ticket to take a cruise on Atlanta Motor Speedway with your own car," she said, adding that the cost of that event will be $20. "All proceeds will go to the Facade Grant Program the Hampton DDA is sponsoring."

Cruises on the track will be offered at 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Shuttles will also be available during the event, to transport attendees from downtown Hampton to Tara Field throughout the day.

The price of admission to Saturday's festivities is $5, with children 12 and under gaining entry for free.

For more information about the Dixie Wing, or to purchase a ride on a WWII plane on Saturday, call (678) 364-1110.

- Staff writer Jason A. Smith contributed to this article.