Warbirds To Fly for Wounded WarriorsWritten by Valerie Alker
Jamie Trudeau of Trudeau Warbird Enterprises in Punta Gorda started his day tuning up the engine of a T28 Trainer. First built 1949, the planes were used to train a generation of Air Force and Navy pilots up through the Vietnam War. But, the old trainer is one of the newer planes on the tarmac outside a hangar at the Punta Gorda Airport. Trudeau said he also has a P51 Mustang in the shop, perhaps the most iconic fighter plane associated with World War II. READ MORE
“It was involved in ground loop accident. We deal with quite a few trainer aircraft – T6’s, SNJs, BT13 – a lot of that stuff was from the beginning of World War II,” he says.
Trudeau’s father and uncle were pilots in World War II. Color blindness kept him from piloting a plane in Vietnam, but didn’t quell his desire to fly. He built and taught himself to fly several ultra-light planes and this eventually led to his passion for warbirds. Now he’s one of a handful of people in this country who maintain these planes.
About 1,600 military aircraft were manufactured in the United States in 1941. That number jumped to more than 16,000 by the end of 1942 and peaked at 26,000 in 1944. Trudeau said production of long-range fighter planes with names like the Hell Cat, the Bear Cat, the Tiger Cat and the Mustang eventually gave the advantage to the U.S. in the air war over Germany.
“When the U.S. started daylight bombing they were getting clobbered by Messerschmitts and Fokholes because our fighters and the British fighters could not go that distance to protect them – so when they developed these long range planes, the P51, P37 and P38, they could escort the bombers all the way to their targets and back which really helped the survivability of our bomber crews,” he said.
At the end of World War II many of these airplanes were scrapped. Of the more than 15,000 P51 Mustangs built only about 300 are left – and about 150 are still in flying condition. Many of the planes still flying do so at airshows.
The safety of these planes was questioned last September when a World War II fighter plane crashed at an airshow in Reno, Nevada, killing 11 people and injuring dozens more. The next day a vintage trainer plane crashed at an exhibition in West Virginia killing the pilot.
Trudeau said the jury is still out on last September’s crashes of two warbirds.
“One was at Reno, that was a highly modified P51 Mustang that had been racing for years with very qualified highly qualified pilot,” he said. “And the other one a T28, he was an Air force pilot, a veteran, just a highly skilled pilot.”
Meanwhile his mission is to keep the remaining birds flying and safe. He said this is accomplished with great attention to detail.
“If you get distracted when you do work like this it’s very easy to make a mistake so you have to zone out and pay attention and when you get done you have to put another pair of eyes on it and if it’s very critical you put a third pair of eyes on it because nobody’s perfect,” he admits.
Trudeau has a hanger full of pristine parts for the T28, which was still in wide use during the Vietnam conflict. He maintains about 22 of them, about ten percent of the total remaining aircraft. As the for the old warbirds – old parts are replaced with new ones fabricated on-site.
Trudeau said once he and his crew have given a plane a thorough makeover it’s stronger and better than when it first came off the assembly line in the 1940’s because the materials available today are superior.
He said he plans to keep working to keep the old warbirds in the air as long as he can as a memorial to all the pilots and others who were lost during wars.
“A lot of people forget why we are here. How we got here. And, looking at the old war planes and stuff that’s one the reasons we’re allowed to do what we are today is because of the sacrifices all these other people made,” he said.
The EAA Warbird Squadron 24 makes the annual flyover of the Wounded Warrior event. This flyover was started by Jamie Trudeau. The warbirds, many of them maintained by the Trudeau Warbird Enterprises, will fly on Feb 26th and be part of Warbird Weekend on Saturday Feb 25th and Sunday Feb 26th. Some of the same planes will also make an appearance at the Florida International Airshow in Punta Gorda March 24-25th.