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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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Warbirds soar to promote Fly-in, My MacDill

— After two passes over MacDill Air Force Base, the formation of World War II warbirds received a call from the base tower.

Can you make another pass?

So the planes — a B-25, four T-6s and four Chinese-model Yaks — banked around and flew back over the base.

“They were really excited,” said Todd Winemiller, pilot of the lead T-6 Texan trainer in the formation, which was flying right behind “Betty’s Dream,” a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber.

The flight, which passed over downtown and just over Bayshore Boulevard on the way to MacDill, was a dual-purpose mission. The planes took off from the Lakeland home of Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-in and Expo to promote the 41st annual event — the nation’s second-largest airshow and the state’s largest annual convention. And it was meant to help spread the word about the “My MacDill” campaign, created to bring awareness to the base, its strategic and economic importance and the effort to keep it preserved against any attempts to shutter military installations.

On Tuesday, the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee introduced legislation that would prohibit the creation of another Base Closure and Realignment Commission in the current budget cycle. But the subcommittee also wants the Pentagon to compile a report next year on how much excess inventory of installations exists. The move would help evaluate whether some bases should be closed.

Winemiller said given the current economic climate, he was happy to take part in the flyover.

“It was a real honor to fly over MacDill,” said Winemiller, a farmer with a 4,000-acre spread near Cincinnati, Ohio.

A pilot for 20 years, Winemiller has owned the T-6 Navy trainer for the past 15 years and has flow about 2,000 hours, half in the single-engine propeller plane that first rolled off the assembly line in 1943.

Winemiller said he flies in airshows around the country, often in events with a military theme.

“This was a good way to bring awareness of the base,” said Winemiller, whose flight over MacDill was the first time he’d ever seen it in person.

Pat Hill, the Sun ‘n Fun director, said that excitement for the fly-over was high.

“There are people lined up on the streets, and watching from the high-rises and on boats,” he said just before the planes took off.

The Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In features the Air Force Thunderbirds and Breiling Jet Team acrobatic teams, the latter of which performed Tuesday for the first time in the United States, according to organizers.

Aside from air shows, the Fly-In features static displays of a T-6 Texan II, UC-12B, KC-130, KC-135, C-171, F-22, TH-57, A-10, P-8 Poseidon, OH-58D Kiowa, T-45 Goshawk, SH-60 Seahawk, T-38 Talon, UH-60 and more.

Saturday will be the event’s Veteran’s Day, with a performance by the Thunderbirds.

There are more than 500 exhibitors and vendors, 10,000 aircraft movements and more than 700 daily activities for the week.

The Commemorative Air Force “Rise Above” traveling exhibit features the e-history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Meet Colonel Charles McGee and General Doolittle’s Co-Pilot on the Tokyo Raid, Colonel Dick Cole. WWII WASPS are gathered on the grounds with the Women in Aviation as gatherings of young and old happen across the 2,200 acres of aviation history. From country bands and aviation notables, military history will come alive with Gary Powers Jr. presenting the history of his father’s U-2 incident, and the SR-71 Pilots. Air America in the Veterans Plaza will be presenting memories in recognition of 40 years since their last flight out of Saigon.

All proceeds from any event on the Sun ‘n Fun Convention Campus are returned to education programs, activities and facilities.

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