Warbirds flyover: Historic planes perform honor fallen veterans and COVID responders with aerial salute above Southern California

A large formation of historic warbirds soared over Southern California on Memorial Day, saluting "veterans who gave so much,'' as well as health care workers taking risks daily amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Leticia Juarez Image
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Warbirds tribute: Formation of historic planes soar above SoCal
A formation of historic warbird planes flew over Southern California on Memorial Day to honor veterans and health care workers.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- An 18-plane formation of historic warbirds soared over the Inland Empire, Orange and Los Angeles counties on Memorial Day, saluting "veterans who gave so much,'' as well as health care workers taking risks daily amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We came up with the idea after seeing the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels making the rounds,'' Commemorative Air Force Inland Empire Wing Operations Manager Bill Prosser told City News Service. "We're going to be a lot slower than the T-Birds and Angels so people can see us better. It's not like, Boom' -- they're gone. We'll be doing 120 mph.''

The warbirds formation had 19 designated flyover locations, listed below, in order of the planned itinerary, with the operation starting at about noon on May 25:

-- Loma Linda University Medical Center

-- Riverside National Cemetery

-- Anaheim

-- St. Joseph Hospital, Orange

-- John Wayne Airport

-- Pacific View Memorial Park, Corona Del Mar

-- Newport Beach

-- Long Beach Veterans Administration Hospital

-- the Queen Mary

-- USS Iowa Memorial

-- Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes

-- Zamperini Airport, Torrance

-- Los Angeles International Airport

-- Santa Monica Airport

-- Los Angeles National Cemetery

-- UCLA Medical Center

-- USC Medical Center

-- City of Hope Hospital

-- Chino Municipal Airport

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have crisscrossed the country making high-speed, low-pass appearances as part of "Operation America Strong,'' a morale-booster in answer to virus-related impacts. The Thunderbirds were in the Los Angeles metropolitan area last week.

WATCH: Thunderbirds fly over Southern California saluting front line workers

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds conducted flyovers over Southern California today to honor local frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

A formation of six F-16-C/D Fighting Falcons conducted the flyovers on May 15 as a salute to health care workers, first responders, military and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans.

There were two unexpected incidents during the flyover. At one point over the Westside of Los Angeles near the coast, one pilot had to break formation to avoid a midair collision. The pilot was able to regain control and the jets resume the six-ship Delta formation. Also, the squadron at one point had to deviate from the announced flight path because of other air traffic in the region. That left some in areas like Manhattan Beach disappointed to miss the show.

Prosser said he and CAF IE Wing Commander Stephen Rose reached out to organizations statewide to solicit support for what's been dubbed "Memorial Day: Operation SoCal Strong,'' and the response was immediate.

"We've got no sponsors, just partners,'' he told City News Service. "We reached out to them, and they said, 'Heck, yeah, let's do this!'''

According to Prosser, the IE Wing's Riverside-based "D-Day Doll,'' a Douglas C-53D manufactured in 1943 to carry paratroopers and cargo in World War II, will lead the formation, which will also feature C-47 transports, P-40 Warhawks and P-51 Mustangs.

"We'll be up there for 70 to 90 minutes. We'll have smoke trails. We'll be low, slow and loud,'' Prosser said. "'On the D-Day Doll, we'll be carrying a veteran from each war going back 80 years -- a World War II vet, a Korean War vet, a Vietnam vet, an Afghanistan vet and an Iraqi Freedom vet."

He added: "We cannot forget our veterans who gave so much. Memorial Day is about remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Veterans Day is for all veterans. But Memorial Day is to honor all those who secured the freedoms we have today.''

With health care workers on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, they deserve recognition on the occasion, as well, Prosser said.

"It's a way to say thank you,'' Prosser said.

Along with the CAF aircraft, the Palm Springs Air Museum's Planes of Fame will be in the formation, as well as a Flabob Express transport from Jurupa Valley, a historic aircraft owned by the Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa and Betsy's Biscuit Bomber, a restored C-47 based in Paso Robles.

A large formation of historic warbirds will soar over Southern California on Memorial Day, saluting "veterans who gave so much,'' as well as health care workers taking risks daily amid the coronavirus pandemic.

City News Service contributed to this report.