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Jayhawk Wing aims to educate, preserve WWII history at air shows

Westport Airport owner Earl Long, left, and John Bartholomew of the Jayhawk Wing with a Fairchild PT 23. (May 29, 2015)
Westport Airport owner Earl Long, left, and John Bartholomew of the Jayhawk Wing with a Fairchild PT 23. (May 29, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Ben Sorensen said the goal of the Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force is to restore and preserve World War II aircraft and use them to educate younger generations about military history.

“We’re the premier old airplane organization,” said Sorensen, the group’s operations officer. “I think the real goal now is to keep them flying and educate people about them. We like to show the planes off.”

Sorensen said the group does this by bringing its aircraft to various air shows and fly-ins across the state, as well as special events for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. The Jayhawk Wing will be at the Pratt Regional Airport Fly-in on June 27 and 28 and the Hutchinson Airport Fly-in on July 3-5.

At these events, people can make a donation in exchange for a ride in the group’s aircraft, a Fairchild PT-23 and a Cessna Bobcat UC-78. Both were used to train World War II pilots and are now based at the group’s hangar at 2560 S. Kessler in Wichita.

When the planes are not at an event, people can schedule rides at the hangar. The UC-78 can hold three passengers for a $250 fee, while the PT-23 can hold one passenger for $150.

Sorensen said the organization began almost 30 years ago as the Jayhawk Squadron with a group of pilots and owners of old military airplanes but is open to anyone interested in historical aircraft.

Earl Long, a founding member of the Jayhawk Wing, said the local organization has about 40 members, while the Commemorative Air Force has grown to about 9,000 members who live in every state and several foreign countries.

Along with bringing its aircraft to events, Long said the group makes an effort to educate young people about World War II.

“We have a Veterans Lectureship where a couple of veterans go around and give talks to schools and Boy Scout troops, and sometimes they even come out here to the hangar,” Long said. “We want the younger people to realize the sacrifice that war took.”

John Bartholomew said he became involved in the Jayhawk Wing about 10 years ago and served as wing leader, the group’s top leadership position. He said his passion for flying and airplanes brought him to the group but that one of the most important things the group does is keep history alive.

“There’s a saying that says a country that does not remember its history has no history,” Bartholomew said. “That was really impressive to me, because right now, most children don’t have any idea what we did during World War II, and we need to make people aware. Freedom didn’t come without sacrifice.”

Bartholomew said many of the members had relatives who were in World War II or are veterans themselves, so teaching people about what happened is important to them.

“A lot of people got involved in the wing because their parents were in World War II,” Long said. “We’ll have guys about our age come up and say, ‘My dad flew that airplane in the war.’

“That’s the fun part of it.”

Linda Stach said that although she has been a member of the Jayhawk Wing for only one year, she has already met many people with connections to the war and the group’s aircraft.

“There was a guy in Hutchinson last year who wanted to fly in an A-26, but we couldn’t get him up because he was so moved by the memories he had,” Stach said. “Some people get really emotional.

“It brings a lot of memories back for people, and they relate their stories to us and we learn from that, so it really is interesting.”

Reach Alyssa Scott at ascott@wichitaeagle.com.

Upcoming events

June 13, Hays Regional Airport, “Great Planes on the Great Plains.” Fly-in with helicopter rides and car show. 785-628-7370. www.flyhays.com.

June 20, Benton Airpark Fly-In. 7 a.m., fly-in in any kind of aircraft. 316-778-1612.

June 20, Strother Field Fly-In and Classic Car Show, Winfield. 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.

June 26-28, Gardner Municipal Airport, Kansas City Vintage Fly-In. 816-729-3151.

June 27-28, Pratt Regional Airport, Pratt Regional Airport Fly-In. Breakfast 7-10 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Fly-in with static displays. 620-672-7571. www.prattairport.com.

July 3-5, Hutchinson Airport Fly-in. Airplane rides all day.

Aug. 1, Ellsworth Municipal Airport, Ellsworth Cowtown Fly-in. Pancake breakfast 7 a.m.-noon with fly-in (free admission, but donations requested to eat). 785-472-4309.

Sept. 18-20, Great Bend Airfest, Great Bend Municipal Airport. 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5. 620-792-9446. www.greatbendairfest.com

More on Jayhawk Wing

To schedule a ride with the Jayhawk Wing of the Commemorative Air Force or to learn about joining the group, e-mail cafjayhawks@gmail.com.

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