A Behind The Scenes Look At The Preparation For Arsenal of Democracy Flyover Scrubbed Due To Weather

B-29 Doc at the moment of takeoff for a formation photo op mission.(All images: Author)

Over 65 WWII warbirds were gathered for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover of Washington DC but the weather did not cooperate.

After years of preparation, the 2020 Arsenal of Democracy Flyover was canceled due to bad weather. The minimum 5,000 foot ceiling could not be met. The flyover only had clearance to take place on the primary date of Friday Sept. 25 and the backup day of Saturday Sept. 26, 2020.

Still, the days leading up to the flyover provided the opportunity to photograph the warbirds as they arrived at their designated airports and while they conducted training flights. Fortunately, members of the media were granted ramp access at both airports used to base the Arsenal of Democracy aircraft.

Maintainers up early as usual working on Consolidated PBY Catalina.

Originally, this year’s flyover was to occur on May 8, to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe. Because of COVID-19, the flyover was postponed until September 25. Understandably, other social events, associated with the flyover, were also cancelled.

Pair of P-51 Mustangs prepare for morning training mission.

The first Arsenal of Democracy Flyover took place in May 2015. Taking years to pull together, it took the work of multiple private organizations as well as civil and military government agencies to make it happen. Moreover, Washington D.C. is one of the most controlled airspaces in the world: all commercial flights into and out of Reagan National Airport were grounded for at least two hours during the event.

F4U Corsair on rollout following practice for missing man formation.

In order to understand why the flyover was cancelled, one must consider the bare minimum ceiling and visibility required for safe operations. These minimal requirements had to be met not only over Washington D.C. but also at multiple locations spread across the region where the warbirds were based, marshalling points where formations formed up, and over Washington D.C. itself.

Informal debrief of missing man formation pilots after morning practice flight.

In addition, this was not a case of individual aircraft flying into clouds using instruments, but formations of aircraft that must fly under VFR (visual flight rules). It was simply impossible for so many formations to fly safely with the clouds being too low.

One of only two airworthy Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateers taking off on a media flight.

The flyover’s air boss had to be able to manage a delicate balance of over 60 aircraft in 19 individual formations that were preciously timed to pass over D.C. in a steady stream every two minutes. With safety paramount, all parts of this chain had be in place well before the first aircraft took off let alone arrived over D.C. So it was best to cancel the flyover, over safety reasons, after two days of bad weather.

World’s only airworthy B-29s, Doc and Fifi, prepare for takeoff.

After the second cancelation, there was already talk of the next flyover. Instead of waiting five years, the organizers are already talking of holding the next flyover in May of 2021. Let’s hope this can happen. Anyway, this Author had an opportunity to get a glimpse at this year’s work behind the flyover and look forward to witnessing the 2021 Arsenal of Democracy Flyover.

AT-6s and SNJs await the day’s practice flights.

To give you an idea as to how the flyover would have looked like, the following is the official YouTube video from 2020 Arsenal of Democracy Flyover.