If you were at the 2022 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow, you may have had the chance to see something truly unique early one morning: the rooster crowing to wake you was replaced with the magical rumble of two F7F Tigercats and four P-51 Mustangs, a sortie put together by Lewis Air Legends, Breitling, and AOPA.
At 5:15 am, the boots of all six pilots hit the deck of Warbird Alley to brief before the flight at sunrise. Owner of Lewis Air Legends, Rod Lewis, was to lead the sortie in the silver Tigercat “La Patrona” with guest Drew Reggie alongside the blue Tigercat “Here Kitty, Kitty!” piloted by aviator Stew Dawson with guest Thierry Prissert, president of Breitling USA. The four-ship of P-51 Mustangs consisted of aviators Larry “Lumpy” Lumpkin in “Gunfighter,” Ray Fowler in a D-model of “Old Crow” with guest Christiaan van Deur, aviation liaison for Breitling, Paul Draper in “Gentleman Jim,” and Wes Stowers in “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Just as the ground crew finished preparing all of the aircraft, the soft blue sky and warbirds came alive as sun broke the horizon, striking the clouds, paint, and metal with warm orange light. The long shadows from the aircraft merged together with the shadows of the pilots as they climbed into their cockpits. In an instant, the quiet morning was startled with thousands of horsepower that cut through the air and rattled the ground. A crowd quickly gathered as there was no mistaking the sound of Pratt & Whitney radials and Rolls Royce Merlin V-12s.
The chocks were pulled, and one by one the aircraft rolled down the taxiway to an eager sky filled with perfectly placed clouds painted in morning summer light. The first wheels-up was the photo-ship, a Lewis Air Legends B-25 Mitchell piloted by John Smith and Averille Dawson, followed by the Tigercats and Mustangs. After just a few minutes, all six aircraft joined up behind the B-25 for still and motion photography of the rare and stellar formation, while spectators viewed the celestial sortie from the hallowed grounds of Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh.
When the aircraft landed and the props came to a stop, the pilots were met by a grateful crowd who had witnessed an unforgettable and historic flight.
Text & photos by Bradley Wentzel