Warbirds return to Minot

A TBM-3E Avenger that sank two ships during World War II and now has President George H.W. Bush’s signature on it is among eight planes of the Texas Flying Legends Museum that have arrived at Minot’s Dakota Territory Air Museum.

Pilots made two trips from Houston to bring the eight planes to the Magic City this past weekend.

Warren Pietsch, Minot, director of warbirds operations and chief pilot for the Texas private museum, said getting the planes to Minot took several people:

Sam Graves, a pilot and congressional member from Missouri, flew the Avenger; Pietsch flew the Wildcat, a U.S. fighter plane, and the Zero, a Japanese fighter; Doug Rozendaal of Iowa and Freddy Caraveo of Houston, flew the B-25; Bernie Vasquez of California flew the P-51 “Dakota Kid”; Casey Odegaard, flew the P-51 “Little Horse” and the Corsair; and Rozendaal also flew the P-40.

Another plane, the Harvard, was already in Minot.

Before coming to Minot on May 29, several warbirds from the Texas Flying Legends Museum did the cadets’ hat toss flyover, followed by two planes from the National Museum of World War II Aviation, for graduation at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo. The sequester had prevented the Air Force Thunderbirds from doing the traditional flyover at the graduation, Pietsch said.

Two more planes in the Texas group’s fleet will be coming to Minot later in the month, he said.

The L-5 Sentinel, a small observation plane that was used by the Marines, was restored to its original condition.

“It was flown at Iwo Jima during the invasion,” Pietsch said.

He said Merton Hansen, of Des Moines, Iowa, who flew the plane, and eight other veterans will be going to Oshkosh, Wis., with the Texas Flying Legend Museum’s planes and pilots for the AirVenture Oshkosh 2013, later this summer. Each veteran will represent one of the planes, Pietsch said.

A C-53 Skytrooper plane also will be coming to Minot later this month. The C-53 same as a DC-3 or C-47 will be named the “Duchess of Dakota” for the C-47 that the late Murray Lawler, of Linton, flew in World War II. He named the plane for his future wife, Margaret, who became the first war bride to arrive in North Dakota. Margaret Lawler will be among the veterans going to Oshkosh with the warbirds.

“By July 4, we hope to have all the planes here,” Pietsch said.

Seven aircraft mechanics from out of town and from as far away as Maine have arrived in Minot and along with local ones at Pietsch Aircraft Restoration and Repair will be doing the annual maintenance on the planes.

On July 4, the new Texas Flying Legends Wing at the air museum will be dedicated. The new hangar is not open to the public yet while it is under construction that has been delayed slightly by the extensive rain. But many of the planes are available for viewing in the existing facilities.

In coordination with Minot’s annual July 4 Festival in the Parks, activities are planned at the museum, including flyovers, an evening concert and a hangar dance.

The Avenger is the latest addition to the Texas group’s fleet.

“It’s the same type of airplane that was flown by President George Bush Sr.,” said Pietsch. Bush is a decorated former Navy pilot.

He and family members were invited to the Texas Flying Legends Museum at Ellington Field in Houston in April to see the Avenger. The event gave former President Bush the chance to see one of his sons and a grandson fly in the Avenger, with Pietsch as the pilot. George H.W. Bush also signed a prop tip of the Avenger that day.

“There were three generations of Bushes on the ramp in front of the same kind of airplane that he flew in the war,” Pietsch said.

The Avenger gained notoriety during World War II.

“This particular airframe sank a Japanese destroyer and a Japanese cruiser on the same day,” Pietsch said.

He said there were two different crews and Harry Badgerow was one of the pilots with one of the crews. Before his death, Badgerow had signed the other prop tip of the Avenger that belongs to the Texas group.

“The airplane also flew over the Japanese surrender on the Missouri. It was part of the mass flyover and it also delivered supplies to POWs in Japan,” Pietsch said.

The planes will be displayed in the air museum except when any are undergoing maintenance.

The warbirds will remain in Minot until mid-July. They will go to Wiscasset, Maine, for the rest of the summer before returning to Houston for the winter.