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By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN â Itâs safe to say that Dave Payne, executive director and board president of the Quonset Air Museum, is like a kid awaiting Santa Claus.
For Payne and other devotees of aircraft history and warfare, this coming weekend will represent a sort of snapshot of World War II. Six vintage planes owned by the Texas Flying Legends Museum will arrive on Friday and stay for the weekend.
âThis is an exciting thing thatâs going to happen to us,â says Payne. The aircraft are coming to Rhode Island to fly over the Bucket Regatta in Newport but while in Rhode Island, their home base will be Quonset.
Planes scheduled to make the trek from Texas are a B-25 bomber, two P-51d Mustang fighters, a P-40 fighter, a Corsair and â rarest of the rare â a Japanese Zero, the craft that wreaked havoc in the Pacific. Japanese pilots flew 328 combat-ready Zeroes in attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Many Zeroes were lost in kamikaze suicide missions or were shot down over the ocean.
The Zero coming to Quonset is one of only two still flying in the United States.
During World War II, the Zero was armed with two 7.7 mm machine guns and two 20 mm cannons plus launch rails for eight small or two large air-to-air rockets. Considered heavily armed, Zeroes decimated the Chinese air force before the Japanese broadened their scope.
âIn the early air battles against the Americans and the British, starting at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Zero shocked and terrified the Allies,â says one aircraft historian.
âIt was deadly,â reflects Payne, âbut weâve got our P-40 painted as a Flying Tiger.â That plane, part of the air museumâs collection, eventually overcame the Zeroâs power.
This weekendâs fly-in will be unprecedented in the history of the Quonset Air Museum. Payne learned of the Texas groupâs planned appearance at the Newport race during a meeting of the airport authority.
His response: âI said âYouâve got a spot to put your planes.ââ
The planes, he explains, âwill land at Quonset and taxi down to our facility. Weâre moving every one of our aircraft out of the hangar to make room for them.â
With very little publicity, the event has been attracting a great deal of attention.
âIâm getting calls from all over the place,â Payne says. âThis outfit [the Texas group] has quite a following. Iâve gotten calls from out-of-state. One group had planned to traveled to Maine to see one of their fly-ins but scrapped that to come here instead.â
During the weekend, the museum will open as usual at 10 a.m. General admission is $7, 12 and under $3 and seniors $6. Active military are admitted free. The planes will be available for public inspection and the pilots will answer questions.
âIâm excited about this,â says Payne. âIt could help us tremendously.â
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com.View more articles in: