By Ronnie Mitchell
On Father’s Day weekend the Nebraska State Fly-In took place at the Hastings Airport with a fantastic lineup of aircraft, aerobatic performers, a fabulous car show and one of only two flyable WWII B-29s (“D0C”). Rides on the B-29 were available on Saturday and Sunday including interior walk throughs of this historic aircraft. It was all orchestrated by the Hastings Airport Association in partnership with the Hastings Airport and EAA Chapter 544. More than 4,500 people attended with over 1,000 having breakfast provided by the Hastings Kiwanis Club.
Numerous static aircraft displays were available to the public with over 60 aircraft on the field. Members of the the Nebraska chapter of the 99s were there in force including Lisa McWilliams, aerobatic performer Debby Rihn-Harvey, author Diane Bartels. Dick Trail NE Aeronautics Commissioner was also in attendance. (Trail is a graduate of the Air Force Academy’s first class and winner of the Strategic Air Command’s McKay trophy. During the Vietnam conflict, Trail was aircraft commander of a KC135 refueling aircraft which simultaneously refueled a Navy tanker and a damaged Navy fighter jet, getting them back to a safe landing in friendly territory).
The airshow was a tribute to Nebraska aviator Harry Barr who passed away July 1, 2020. Harry was a true friend of aviation who helped numerous individuals attain their pilot’s license and make aviation a career. No one really knew how many aircraft Harry owned but at one time, while his P-51 North American Mustang was being rebuilt after an engine failure accident, Harry bought a second P-51 to keep current. He said the only thing better about owning one P-51 was having two!
Air boss Dale Brykit did an outstanding job of keeping the airshow safe and performers on schedule while Erin Hupp entertained the crowd with her fast-paced dialogue. Longtime friend of Harry Barr, Larry Bartlett, opened the airshow with his trademark parachute drop with the US flag streaming behind his body while the National Anthem was sung. Jeff Shetterly then performed a North American T-6 aerobatic routine followed by a Ping Pong ball drop for over 500 boys and girls. Those with certain numbers on the ball received prizes including $2 dollar bills. There were some happy boys and girls!
Other long time Harry Barr friends performing were Doug Roth, flying an aerobatic routine in a Staudacher aircraft followed by Jesse Panzer in her Pitts aircraft. Eric Edgren performed a comedy routine in a clipped wing Taylorcraft followed by Debby Rihn-Harvey and then Brian Correll in a low-level thrilling routine in his Pitts. He flew about 15 feet above the runway upside down while cutting a ribbon held by volunteers which included Hasting’s Mayor Corey Stutte.
RT Dickson performed his aerobatic routine in a beautifully restored P-51 Mustang. The last event was the Harry Barr Tribute Parade. Harry’s yellow Piper J3 was on the front ramp along with the Midwest’s Smallest Airport which was a Chevrolet Suburban with a small landing ramp on its top which Harry landed on over 100 times. Then Doug Roth took to the air with his Staudacher performing a brief routine followed by RT Dickson in his P51 and Jessy Panzer in her Pitts performing formation fly arounds circling the south end of the airfield. The hymn “I’ll Fly Away” was being sung while the fly arounds were taking place. A fitting ending to the “Harry Barr Tribute”.
This was an outstanding event which was flawlessly coordinated and performed. Congratulations to the committees and sponsors who made this State Fly-In a success.
Ronnie Mitchell is a former Director of the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics.