Monday, August 8, 2016
By Jordan Cohen
The North American P-51 Mustang banked left under the sunny morning skies, setting up for the type of attack that made it the most-feared fighter aircraft in World War II.
Instead, the “attack” was a screaming dive over Sloas Airfield, its noise drowning out the applause and cheers of several thousand spectators at the fourth annual Wings-n-Wheels festivities Sunday.
“We expect to have more than 100 airplanes land here throughout the day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get 780 cars,” said Bill Griffin, who owns and operates the airfield.
Off to one side of the 3,000-foot grass strip were the aircraft, many of them classics from pioneering designs such as the Piper Cub to legendary military airplanes.
Brad Deckert of Peru, Ill., owns one of the latter, a Grumman TBM Avenger. The Avenger was a U.S. Navy torpedo bomber of the type flown by former President George H.W. Bush during World War II.
Asked how he happened to purchase the classic, Decker was surprisingly candid.
“It happened on a drunken night at the Fargo (N.D.) Air Museum when they convinced me to buy it and I didn’t know any better,” he said. “I’ve had it for eight years, and I’ll be restoring it as long as I own it.”
He declined to say how much he has invested in his prize possession.
Another military aircraft owner is Verlin McIntosh of Farmersville, Ohio, who sat by his T-28B naval trainer as spectators snapped picture after picture. Like Deckert, McIntosh says flying his classic can be rather costly.
“It can go 400 mph, but it burns 220 gallons when it does, and I can’t afford to fly it like that,” he said. “So I fly it at 200 mph and use only 50 gallons.”
The turnout for Wings-n- Wheels is one more example proving America is still in love with classic planes and cars. Ask Tom and Jean Goodhart of Sharpsville, Pa., or Denise Abbas of Youngstown.
“I like airplanes and this is absolutely impressive,” said Goodhart. His wife said she especially likes looking at the older aircraft with open cockpits, but “I would never go up in one,” she admitted.
Abbas said her brother is a pilot and her uncle served as a navigator in World War II. “We love airplanes in my family,” she said.
Some spectators such as 5-year-old Evan Potyonek of Howland are too young to appreciate the history associated with the aircraft, but that did not matter to the wide-eyed little boy. “Wow,” he yelled as he watched a plane taxi and park nearby. Asked if he’d like to go fly in one of them, Evan thought for a moment.
“No,” he said firmly.
On the opposite side of the airfield, cars of the classic and more-recent variety kept arriving throughout the afternoon. The colorful vehicles seemed to represent every era: the early days of mass production; General Motors tail-finned cars of the 1950s; high-performance Dodge Chargers of the 1970s.
Ron Knepper of Niles sat on the back of one of the oldest vehicles, a green 1929 Ford truck, its chassis looking much like it did 87 years ago.
That’s fine with the owner.
“I don’t like ’em restored,” said Knepper, owner of 11 older vehicles.
Griffin said the money earned from Wings-n-Wheels benefits the adjacent Ernie Hall Museum, named for the pioneering aviator from Warren who died in 1972. He said some of the proceeds each year also are donated to Northeast Ohio Adoption Services and Animal Welfare League.
“We’ve given [Animal Welfare] $20,000 in the last four years,” Griffin said.