Not all collectibles are made of wood, glass or metal.
We also collect experiences. These memories in motion recapture events that happened in our younger days and can’t be relived—except in our minds. Those sufficiently vintage might remember the first time they climbed to their seats in a DC-3 parked outside an airport gate. Or perhaps you once took a flight at a county fair in an open-cockpit crop duster. The fortunate might’ve experienced flying across the Atlantic faster than the speed of sound before the Concorde was permanently grounded 20 years ago.
For an annual stroll down memory lane, it’s tough to beat the New Garden Air Show in Toughkenamon. This year, construction at the airfield may ground the event. In the summer of 2022, New Garden’s manager, Jon Martin, gambled on having the show on a single Tuesday afternoon and evening in late August, a time when the air space was likely to be closed because the president was in town. As it turned out, stormy weather caused a one-day delay.
When the gates did open, the air show had the feel of a long-ago county fair, with attendees strolling among a few dozen brightly colored vintage craft. The evening show offered airborne acrobatics.
As a United Airlines pilot, Stewart Nicolson greets passengers as they come aboard. At last summer’s air show, he stood casually by the wing of his mustard-yellow T6G, built by North American Aviation as a single-engine advanced trainer for newly recruited Army Air Force pilots during World War II. “It looks pretty much like it did when it left the factory,” said Nicolson, adding that it saw service at a military training facility in Georgia. “Dad bought the plane in 1967 for $2,500. Back then, it didn’t have much value.”
Though Nicolson stations the plane at New Garden, he wasn’t in the air during the evening’s air show. Still, he likes the freedom of flying at New Garden. “Here, there are no passengers, no rules, no regulations,” he said. “Mostly, I just fly loops. It takes about 50 gallons each time I go up.”
Nicolson pointed out Kendall Horst of Lancaster Aero in Smoketown. “They’ve done restoration work on a lot of these planes,” he said, noting that many planes also owed their bright paint jobs to that firm.
Nearby was a larger, glistening black aircraft with “Magic by Moonlight” painted on its fuselage. Jeff Gibbs was the crew chief who flew in from Arkansas with the plane. “It’s a 1943 Twin Beechcraft 18,” he said. “Like many planes built during the war, it was assembled by women in an Arkansas factory. In 2000, it came out of a boneyard. It was called an AT7 during the war—an advanced trainer for bombing—and it carried a pilot in front and three students in back.”
The next plane over from Gibbs’ craft was a fragile, somewhat drab-looking craft that a few people described as the rarest plane in the show. “It isn’t my plane,” said Charlie Lynch.
Lynch’s friend, Mark Murphy, is the pilot. The owner is a collector from Long Island, New York.
Lynch introduced his own plane, “Tiger’s Revenge,” a North American P51 Mustang. “There are 150 or so still flying,” he noted, pointing to a rare craft colored an army drab with yellow wing fronts. “This is a Japanese A6M Zero, made during the war by Mitsubishi, the same people who make the cars today. This one was fished out of the Pacific and back-engineered. They were very light, great for maneuvering—like a kite with an engine. But once they were hit, they were very easy to bring down.”
Jeff Gibbs flew in from Arkansas with “Magic by Moonlight.” “It’s a 1943 Twin Beechcraft 18,” he said. “Like many planes built during the war, it was assembled by women in an Arkansas factory.”
The A6M Zero was central to a battle in the South Pacific late in World War II, when Allied forces shot down many of the craft being flown by young, inexperienced pilots. “It was called the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” he related.
As the afternoon progressed, dozens of people—mainly families—milled about among the planes. Some of the adults had their own flying experiences to relate to owners and pilots.
As evening came, the parade of vintage aircraft prepared to go aloft for aerial stunts and mock dog fights. For a short time that evening, they ruled the skies as the top guns of Toughkenamon.
For updates on this year’s air show, visit newgardenflyingfield.com.