By Jasmine Willis
GENESEO— After the major success of the last flyover in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse area there was a strong desire for another one.
The last “Operation Thank You From Above” was about a six hour flight and took on around 100 locations. It came about organically as a way to pay tribute to all the frontline workers who are hit in this pandemic. Afterwards, there were outpours of admiration about the event and a need for a second flyover in the Southern Tier.
The National Warplane Museum and OnCore Aviation teamed up to bring this event to millions of hearts across the nation via media platforms. Whiskey 7 is the most beloved plane of the museum, but for one day she was the most tracked plane in the world. This plane is a powerful message for all veterans, and now frontline workers of hope in the battlefield. Having survived the Invasion of Normandy. This WWII Warplane is celebrating its 76thAnniversary on June 6 by saying thank you to all the health care workers, first responders, and essential workers who have kept us alive during Covid 19. The P-51 Mustang “Mad Max” joined Whiskey 7 out of Dunkirk for this special honor. Both warplanes were in World War Two.
Austin Wadsworth, NWM President said the thank you flight had been so well received that they had to do a second one. The first one followed Route 20. This second one will follow Route 86.
“This was a real powerful message for the people. It wasn’t a military jet that passes by in a few seconds. It wasn’t a military team that put this together. It was a few people who wanted to bring this together and make a difference. I have heard that lots of people really appreciated our efforts. We wanted to honor the hospital workers this time,” he said.
Todd Cameron, of OnCore Aviation was the one who spearheaded this entire event. He said the first flight was the longest flyover in the country during this Covid 19 Crisis. When you put both flights together it is even more impressive. The second flight is 65 locations. It is about a four-hour flight.
“The Mad Max has a very unique sound to it. When people hear that plane fly over, they will know it is coming for miles away. We are down here working on these planes all year. It is nice for us to be able to do something like this. The Whiskey 7 is my favorite plane. We get to take her out on D-Day to honor the frontline workers. On the 76 Year Anniversary when we had young paratroopers jumping out of her on the beaches of Normandy now, they are in their 90s and can see it fly from above,” he said.
Mike Piampiano said he would handle the navigations on the flyovers. Chris Polhemus flew Whiskey 7 on the 70 Year Anniversary in 2014. He said it was 25 hours across the North Atlantic Ocean in the old warplane. They used the old routes and ways of navigation.
“I was part of the first thank you flyover. It was a very nice event. It was well received by so many people. It was all about the frontline workers who have been hit nonstop by this crisis, so it was a nice tribute for them,” Polhemus said.
Rob Gillman had joined the museum in 1981 and has made it a second home ever since. He would fly some of the old warplanes with his WWII veteran father who taught him all he knows about flying. His father flew the planes in the war and taught him how to fly the old way when he was 16 years old.
“It was really gratifying to look down. You get so busy flying that you don’t get to see the people looking up at you. It was important for me to keep sight of what I was doing in this mission. I got to sneak a few looks at what the mission was about. We are thanking the health care workers and first responders. We are accomplishing the same thing in the second flight,” he said. “We are starting to come to the end of a long war. This Covid 19 Crisis has been a long battle for our frontline workers. They all got caught up in the middle of this war. We want to treat them the same way we treat veterans. We don’t want them to be forgotten. We want people to remember what they did. We see this kind of thing all the time in combat.”
Gillman said he has passed down what his father taught him to the other guys at the museum. He has trained a lot of the other pilots. He flew with his father for about eight years on those old warplanes. They watched the museum go from a grassroots project to the powerful message it is to so many today.
“I was tahnked personally by some people for the first flyover. When we came back for the afternoon flyover in Syracuse it was so clear on the Ontario Lake. I could see across it to Canada. We had such a beautiful view on that lake. It is a worthwhile event for all of us. We have had guys spend countless hours and days on the routes and putting this whole thing together so that it all runs smoothly.”
Peter Treichler is another one of the pilots who was able to bring his family to camp at the museum while he got ready for the event. Ruben Alconero was the last pilot to be part of the event. He has been at the museum a while as well.
Bob Howard and Brian Trzaskos were the flight crew on this thank you flight. They were making sure Whiskey 7 was oiled and gassed for the training.
WWII Paratrooper Leslie Cruise Jr. of 82ndAirborne was on the famous 70 Year Anniversary D-Day Normandy Flight. He had come back to the museum a couple years ago to make his mark on the very plane he jumped out of when he was just a young paratrooper on the beaches of Normandy. His signature remains part of the Whiskey 7 story for many years to come. It reminds those who visit the museum that these young men fought for our freedom so far away from home, and we must honor that memory and sacrifice every day.
To make a donation for the thank you flight or more information about the museum visit https://nationalwarplanemuseum.com/