Golden age of aviation shines at Vintage Aircraft Weekend

MUKILTEO — The engine sputtered and popped.

The camo-green fuselage shook as pilots adjusted gauges and chattered on the radio, preparing to roll down the runway at Paine Field on Wednesday.

“Grumpy,” one of the world’s oldest flying B-25D Mitchell bombers, took off, climbing 8,500 feet into the clouds above the Cascade foothills.

The twin-engine medium bomber is among more than 60 airplanes that will be on display at the nonprofit Historic Flight Foundation’s annual Vintage Aircraft Weekend, which kicks off Friday and continues through Sunday in Mukilteo.

The planes to be showcased are from the golden age of aviation, the three decades between Charles Lindbergh’s solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and commercialized Boeing jet service along the same route in 1957.

“Grumpy” has been flying since 1943. Today, it is based at the Historic Flight museum. It serves as a representation of a similar aircraft that flew 125 missions in World War II, taking out small targets such as bridges, airfields and troop concentrations for the Allies, said the B-25D’s volunteer crew chief Rob Otero. Its tight quarters carried a five-man crew, as much as 3,000 pounds of bombs and as many as eight .50-caliber machine guns, he said.

This weekend’s event will feature “Grumpy” and other unique aircraft, such as the Douglas World Cruiser and the GeeBee Q.E.D. Other famous flyers include an A-1 Skyraider, P-51 Mustangs, Boeing Stearmans, the Grumman Tigercat and Bearcat.

At 6 p.m. Friday, people are encouraged to dress in period clothing for a dinner and dance. Tickets are $60.

“The fact that some pilots aren’t very good dancers” is offset by professional swing dancers, who will be giving lessons, Historic Flight founder John Sessions said.

On Saturday, people can see flying vintage planes, warbirds and helicopters. Those who sign up for an annual museum membership can go for a ride.

Several former U.S. Navy pilots will be talking Saturday about their experiences with the airplanes during WWII, including Lt. James Whitman, 98; Capt. Greg Lambert, 90; Lt. Cmdr. Bill Anderson, 90; and Johnny Oberto, 93.

Oberto joined the Navy at 19 as a seaman second-class and was placed into advanced flight training. He was assigned to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to test airplanes for several manufacturers as they rolled off assembly lines and to deliver them to combat squadrons.

Oberto said he always did a careful inspection and prepared for the unexpected before a flight.

“You never know what you’ll find on a new aircraft,” he said. “We had problems. We had crashes.”

On one of his close calls, Oberto had agreed to give a young man a ride home to visit his mother in San Diego aboard a torpedo bomber, the “Avenger.” But somewhere over the desert, there was an explosion and gas started splattering on the windshield.

Oberto couldn’t land there so he ordered the young man to bail out.

When he didn’t see a parachute or hear a response from his passenger on the headset, Oberto decided to try to make it to El Paso to land.

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to bail and leave him back there. I’d never be able to live with myself,’” he said.

Once they landed, Oberto said, he opened the back of the airplane. The young man’s face was as “white as a ghost.” He told the pilot he didn’t bail because it looked like a long way down.

“He took the train to San Diego,” Oberto said.

Saturday’s lineup will include stories about the history of United Airlines by Boeing archivist Mike Lombardi and live music, street food, a military vehicle encampment, vintage automobiles and other attractions.

Admission costs $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and members of the military, and $10 for those ages 11 to 17. Children younger than 10 and members get in for free.

On Sunday, people can talk to pilots about their aircraft. Rides will be offered in open cockpit biplanes and in “Grumpy.”

For more information and tickets, call 425-348-3200 or go to

“The hope of all this is to inspire people with the history,” said Sessions, Historic Flight’s founder. “We share a passion for aviation and it can be contagious.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports

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