A portion of Hollywood past pays an unexpected visit to Mt. Pleasant
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
A touch of Hollywood past visited the Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport, largely by accident, Friday.
Seven Japanese fighter replica planes — all used in the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” — spent about 90 minutes on the Mt. Pleasant tarmac and drew a number of spectators.
The pilots were waiting out a thunderstorm they noticed on radar in Davenport, the home of the Quad Cities Air Show, their destination.
Patrick Hutchins of Houston, Texas, one of the pilots, said flying the planes to airshows “on the four corners of the United States and in Canada” is a hobby of his and his fellow pilots.
“We all have real jobs,” he chuckles before backing up and noting one of the pilots is retired. “This is our hobby, we are all high enough in our companies that we receive a lot of vacation and use our vacation for this.”
Hutchins, a salesman for a machinery and fabrication firm in Houston, said three of the pilots are second-generation pilots. Pilots have been taking the Japanese fighters and bombers to air shows for 41 years.
The planes were purchased from 21st Century Fox (the film company which produced “Tora! Tora! Tora!”) by Commemorative Air Force of Midland, Texas.
Hutchins and his fellow pilots, however, maintain, hangar and fly the planes from Houston. “The only time Midland sees the planes is at their air show in October,” the pilot said.
Visiting Mt. Pleasant were each of the three groups of planes — fighters, torpedo bombers and dive bombers. Technically, they are called Zeroes (fighters), Kates (torpedo bombers) and VL’s (dive bombers), Hutchins said, adding the Japanese named their planes after women (some people might argue vehemently that “zeroes” is not a woman’s name).
In the past, the pilots and their flying machines have appeared at 12-15 shows annually but have cut the number to 10 this year due to sequestration.
Most of the planes were built from 1941-51 and are converted North American T-6s, Hutchins said. The planes have been repainted several times and received new paint, radios and engines for this year’s air show circuit.
The pilots left Houston Thursday afternoon, flying to Muskogee, Okla., for the night, staying at the home of one of the pilots. En route to Davenport they re-fueled at Kirksville, Mo., planning to fly directly to Davenport before the thunderstorm entered the picture.
Hutchins said the pilots put about 100 hours on the planes each year. From Davenport, the planes were going to Springfield, Ill., where they will be stored until the Osh Kosh, Wis., Show August.
Mike Burke, another of the pilots, said the group will fly commercially back to their homes and the fly by commercial lines back to Springfield to pick up the planes for Osh Kosh. “We can save $10,000 that way.”