So when asked if I wanted to go up on a press ride with TORA TORA TORA on Friday night, there was Zero hesitation on my part. The first thing I thought of is how my grandfather, Stephen Hollis worked on a P-51 Mustang maintenance team in the European theater. I was going to have an opportunity to ride in one of the last 100 or so WWII fighters still in flight.


The TORA TORA TORA team recreates the December 7th 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The team, primarily comprised of members of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) work as ground crew, maintenance, pilots and pyrotechnic experts. The team does what many history books have fallen silent on over the years, it clearly demonstrates the primary reason that propelled the US to take on a double-fronted war (Japan/Germany).

TORA’s re-creation involves the use of modified Japanese fighters and bombers that simulate the Pearl Harbor attack. In addition to the dog-fighting and aerial acrobatics, TORA’s pyrotechnics team delivers breathtaking smoke, fire and explosions that amaze the crowd. As all feature acts in an air show, the TORA narrator delivers many of the lesser known facts about the attack and the US response.

The Ride of a Lifetime

After arriving more than an hour early, the Air Show staff whisked me off to the awaiting flight tarmac where more than a dozen “Zeros” were lined up. Three press rides and three warmed up WWII fighters. We signed our releases and were off to board the two-seaters.

My TORA pilot was Craig Hutain. A commercial airline pilot and TORA pilot since 2010. He helped me into the tight cockpit, what I found most surprising was the lack of “stuff” inside. To keep these fighters super light and reactive to the stick there are no inside walls. Wires, cables and hydraulics line the walls of the Tora aircraft.

Craig explained to me how the in-flight communications worked, the flaps, landing gear, and cockpit “lid” controls. We basically left the canopy open until we taxied down the runway, and then we cracked the canopy to let fresh air in occasionally while in flight.

Craig then asked if I liked Rock&Roll and I said I did. Once he had some Led Zeppelin playing, I knew Craigs selection as my pilot was a perfect one.

The Flight Plan

The flight plan included flying over Fifth Third Field after the National Anthem at 6:30pm, fly low and pop smoke and then proceed back to Vandalia where we would again fly low, pop smoke and kick-off the Air Show Parade. Finally, we flew over “show central” and popped smoke for the pre-show partiers.

The plane taxi process was interesting. Craig kept “wagging” down the runway turning left and right and then looking out to the side of the plane. It became evident that because the fighter was angled so steeply upward he literally could not see anything in-front of him while taxiing down the runway.

The Take-Off

What could be better than telling you what the take-off process was like? Well, letting you see for yourself in this short video!


There was quite a bit of chop to the take-off. I am not going to lie. And YouTube does a great job of stabilizing my video so all the bumpiness has been removed. What was most unique to me was a tandem take off. I have taken off with the Golden Knights, and several other acts but this was the first time heading down the runway at full bore within a stones throw of two other planes “just getting it” down the runway. The video does a nice job of showing this.

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Checked in at Fifth Third Field @ 2,500 feet

I think it would be appropriate to ask Foursquare to add altitude to their program and award a badge for the visitor who was able to check in with the highest altitude. 🙂

Yep, since this flight included nothing but analog coolness, there were no electronics to mess with. My iPhone worked great and I checked in on Foursquare along with my friend Jennifer Slanker who just so happened to be watching the game Friday evening! Cool eh??

I gave Craig some cues as to where Fifth Third Field was relative to our current position, well again because there was only one paper map and the other pilot had it. We flew over the field at exactly the right time and wowed the crowd from above with smoke and sound.

Since the Foursquare check-in worked so well, I decided to blog a bit, take some pics and post them to my Facebook profile and tag them from way, way above the ground. Yes, nerd alert. Got to tell AT&T that 4G worked pretty well way up there.

Flew over the Parade

In just a few minutes, we were over the Vandalia parade route, popping smoke and giving the crowd something to cheer about below. I posted an update to Facebook to Alec Baldwin that I was playing Words with Friends while in flight and replied to a few comments from way up above! As we approached the Air Show airspace again, I saw the two other planes take a deep, deep bank to the right. I was not exactly prepared for this but it was super cool. Not a lot of G-force, but definitely a weird and almost out of control feeling. Within a minute or two we were back on the ground.

A Cold Bud and a Wet Towel

We taxied back into the tarmac area designated for the TORA team, and rode over the bumpy grassy ground. I mentioned to Craig that while these WWII planes can travel on a grassy field, the Navy would never let their pretty FA 18’s anywhere near the grass. I thought about how many cornfields and jungles these fighters were dropped into during the war in the European and Pacific theaters. Once parked, Air Show staff tossed a couple of cold Buds and wet towels up to us in the cockpit and still >100 degree heat. What a great relief!!

Thank you to the great folks at Vectren, Kroger, Rauch, the Dayton Air Show and TORA TORA TORA for making such exceptional things happen year after year for Dayton and the Miami Valley. I am very proud and honored to be a part of it.

Mike McDermott - P51 Mustang



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