101-year-old WWII B–29 pilot honored with Superfortress flight

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Vaucher flew 117 combat missions during 46 months of service, and was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, among other decorations. Vaucher the “show of force” formation of 525 B–29s that flew over the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. Decades later, he was chosen to serve as honorary air boss for the Arsenal of Democracy 75th World War II Victory Commemoration Flyover that was to have included 70 aircraft passing in waves over the nation’s capital to honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of World War II.

That was the plan, but the flyover had to be scrubbed because of bad weather on September 25, and again on September 26.

Ragged, low ceilings; mist; and an occasional glimpse of blue sky taunted the pilots and crews of lovingly restored aircraft. They had all toiled at airports around the nation’s capital for the better part of a week leading up to the planned event, practicing the formations that would re-create a show of force for 2020, formations of aircraft arranged to celebrate their respective military roles, one following the next over the National Mall.

For many, the gathering at Manassas Regional Airport/Harry P. Davis Field and Culpeper Regional Airport was a labor of love. The days leading up to the planned flyover were an intense mix of aircraft maintenance and proficiency flights, pilots perfecting their formations of historic flying artifacts.

Crews alternated between practice runs and oil changes. Wax and polish were the order of the day as aluminum skin and military paint schemes were buffed to a fine luster that would have reflected the sun—if it could be seen through the clouds. Though mechanical issues are routine, finding parts for airplanes that rolled off the factory floor eight decades ago challenged maintenance teams until nearly the last minute.

A bad magneto in one of the four Curtiss-Wright radial engines temporarily grounded the Boeing B–17 Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey. It rumbled to a stop with a load of guests and visitors after an aborted takeoff during a preparation flight.

But the crew of Doc, one of the last two Superfortresses still flying, was determined to get Vaucher in the air.

Vaucher was accompanied by Veterans Airlift Command volunteer pilot John Gabriele, Donna Lazartic, and family members as he ascended through a bomb bay stairwell into the navigator’s position on the port side of the fuselage. His

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