What do you get when you mix the jubilation of ending the Second World War and an Army Air Forces (AAF) with captured enemy aircraft and technology? One of the coolest airshows a warbird buff could possibly imagine! Check out this footage of the Freeman Field Airshow held in September of 1945, 70 years ago.
Some of the highlights you’ll see in this incredible footage are a flying Junkers Ju 290 A-4 (which was a frequent performer at airshows at the field), a mass formation of B-25 Mitchells, low and fast passes by P-47 Thunderbolts, and a fantastic static lineup with a Ju-88, Me-163, V-1 and V-2, and even a Fairchild C-82 Packet on display. Certainly this was one of the coolest shows one could catch in the 20th Century, but how did it come to be and whatever happened to those aircraft?
The end of the war effort meant that it was time to start collecting and shipping home the captured enemy vehicles and materials. An effort was made to evaluate these captured technologies in the form of Operation Lusty, of which General of the US Army Air Forces Henry “Hap” Arnold ordered one of each type of enemy aircraft operated preserved. When the aircraft were shipped to the US, they were split between the US Navy and Army Air Forces. The AAF began storing their captured aircraft at Wright Field until there was no longer space left for the remaining examples. The surplus aircraft were sent to Freeman Field near Seymour, Indiana as it had ample space for the remaining aircraft.
From June of 1945 to December of 1946, Freeman Field was the new Foreign Aircraft Evaluation Center for the AAF where Axis aircraft were evaluated, cataloged, and stored in preparation for the planned AAF museum. When the field was closed, most of the aircraft had been sent away for disposal. The larger aircraft were sent to Davis-Monthan Field (now Davis-Monthan Air Force Base) and the fighters to the Special Depot III, Park Ridge (now O’Hare International Airport). Sadly, a small number of aircraft were destroyed at the field prior to shutdown. There are a small number of survivors of Operation Lusty like the Arado Ar 234, Dornier Do 335, and Heinkel He 219, which are now apart of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Though today we may never see the same scale of variety and examples of rare aircraft on display again at modern airshows, we can’t give up too much hope, as there are several groups that are tracing the burial pits of those destroyed aircraft at Freeman Field in search of what might be inside them. Regardless, this footage is truly remarkable to watch again and again.