Aviation Buffs Lovingly Keep Vintage Military Aircraft Flying

By Weikel, Dan | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), December 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

Aviation Buffs Lovingly Keep Vintage Military Aircraft Flying


Weikel, Dan, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


LOS ANGELES - On the west side of Van Nuys Airport it's like World War II never ended.

Vintage propeller planes once flown by U.S. Navy, Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force pilots are parked wingtip to wingtip along the taxiway. Nearby buildings are painted in camouflage. The sound of swing music sometimes drifts across the tarmac, and olive drab flight jackets are de rigueur.

The planes and buildings belong to Condor Squadron, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring America's veterans and the public display of the North American AT-6/SNJ Texan - a sturdy two-seater that helped train tens of thousands of military pilots during World War II and the Korean War.

The group and its members own eight of the planes, making Van Nuys the site of one of the largest collections of such aircraft in the nation.

Bearing authentic U.S. and German markings, the squadron's AT-6s regularly appear in local parades, veterans events, memorial services and mock attacks on the Lane Victory, a refurbished military cargo ship that offers day cruises to the public from the Port of Los Angeles. In October, they flew in formation over a playoff game at Dodger Stadium during the close of the national anthem.

"If you are preserving and flying the AT-6, my hat is off to you," said Harold Cannon, president of Warbirds of America, a 5,000- member division of the Experimental Aircraft Association. "It's important to preserve that portion of our history. It's a great plane that trained the pilots who helped win the war."

The Condor Squadron was founded at Van Nuys in 1965 by Walter Morrison, who flew P-40 Warhawks in North Africa, and attorney Richard T. Sykes, who completed 50 combat missions over Europe in a P-38 Lightning.

It started out as a flying club, air show act and member of the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary unit of the U.S. Air Force that performed search-and-rescue missions.

Several of its pilots, including Sykes, also flew in the AT-6 category at the National Air Races, a competition that member Rob "Hollywood" Sandberg and Condor President Chris Rushing still enter.

Over the years, the squadron dropped out of the Civil Air Patrol and increasingly concentrated on air shows, charity events and other community activities, including an annual Easter egg hunt for the public on the organization's grounds. More than 1,500 eggs are hidden and the Easter bunny arrives via helicopter.

The present group has more than 50 members, including many experienced pilots, but time in the air is not always required. Some members were recruited for their mechanical skills to help keep the aging planes aloft.

They get together regularly at their headquarters off Hayvenhurst Avenue, which is part clubhouse, briefing room and watering hole. …

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