By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – It’s 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.
“This is an exciting thing that’s going to happen to us,” 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 – rarest of the rare – 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.
“In 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,” says one aircraft historian.
“It was deadly,” reflects Payne, “but we’ve got our P-40 painted as a Flying Tiger.” That plane, part of the air museum’s collection, eventually overcame the Zero’s power.
This weekend’s fly-in will be unprecedented in the history of the Quonset Air Museum. Payne learned of the Texas group’s planned appearance at the Newport race during a meeting of the airport authority.
His response: “I said ‘You’ve got a spot to put your planes.’”
The planes, he explains, “will land at Quonset and taxi down to our facility. We’re moving every one of our aircraft out of the hangar to make room for them.”
With very little publicity, the event has been attracting a great deal of attention.
“I’m getting calls from all over the place,” Payne says. “This outfit [the Texas group] has quite a following. I’ve 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.”
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.
“I’m excited about this,” says Payne. “It could help us tremendously.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .