Another Visit to the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend

Reading Airport hangar, circa 1939

Reading Airport’s first hangar, dedicated October 1939. Photo courtesy of Reading Regional Airport website (link below).

As mentioned in previous posts about World War II Weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum (MAAM) (Part I and Part II), I am originally from Reading, PA, and have spent innumerable hours at the airport. Such was the case last week when once again I visited the MAAM’s annual World War II Weekend happenings.

This time was a little bit different and special, however.

On this occasion, BOTH of the only two flying Boeing B-29 Superfortresses in existence, Fifi and Doc, were in attendance. Doc flew in but was on static display only, while Fifi was available for flight experiences and flew many times over the 3-day period.

In the two posts linked above, I described the history of the MAAM and the annual WWII Weekend, but I haven’t really related much about the airport itself. What follows is a brief summary of its history.

The site for the Reading Airport was selected in 1934, and following the construction of its first hangar (shown above) the airport was dedicated in October 1939. Over two days the ceremony brought more than 103,000 spectators, as well as many of the nation’s leading aviation officials, acrobatic and military pilots, and planes from the three largest airlines at the time — TWA, United, and American.

In 1943, the War Department spent more than $10 million expanding the airport and building out its infrastructure to become the Reading Army Air Base. The base housed various elements of the Army Air Force’s flight operations, depot, and tactical units throughout the war. Following the war, aircraft returning from all areas around the globe were serviced at the field.

Commercial air service began in 1946 and continued under various operators for many years. The airport flourished, at one time having three scheduled airlines providing daily service up and down the east coast as well as being a stopover on transcontinental flights.

Over the years the runways were lengthened, navaids updated, and a new control tower was built. A new terminal building was built in 1961 and included a restaurant, which has gone through several ownership changes over the years. The airport also boasted one of the larger maintenance and repair facilities, Reading Air Service, who in the 1950s began to host the annual National Maintenance and Operational Meeting. This grew in size and scope, and eventually evolved into a week-long general aviation trade and air show better known as the Reading Air Show, which lasted until 1980. The Reading show attracted many aviation professionals, suppliers, vendors, manufacturers, and aerobatic teams and pilots such as the Blue Angels, Bob Hoover, and many others.

It was during the heyday of the Reading show in the late 1960s-early ’70s that I attended every year and got my first taste of what would become a lifelong obsession with airplanes, aviation, and photography. I definitely got bitten by the aviation bug during those years.

The Reading Air Show actually grew to immense proportions and during its peak years in the early to mid-1970s attracted as many as 150,000 people, and was considered the #2 aviation trade and air show in the world, second only to the Paris show.

The show gradually declined amid escalating costs and infrastructure becoming overwhelmed, and finally ended after the 1980 event.

In 1984, Reading Municipal Airport was dedicated as Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Field. Carl Andrew Spaatz was an early aviator and a native of Boyertown, PA, a smaller town about 15 miles east of Reading. During World War II Spaatz rose to the rank of General and became the first Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.

General Carl. A. Spaatz

General Carl. A. Spaatz, first Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

The Reading Air Show became the highlight of activities at the airport, which had seen its commercial air service gradually decline through the 1960s and eventually end completely by 1970. The airport is currently home to two air charter operators, several flight schools, and three FBOs, as well as about 130 based aircraft and of course the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. Klinger’s At the Airport is the currently popular restaurant in the terminal building. Its plentiful tall windows provide ample natural light inside the room while looking out to the north and west over the main ramp area, giving patrons a panoramic view of the airport and surrounding area, and is an inviting watering hole for local patrons and pilots as well as transient visitors.

Back at the World War II Weekend…

The weather at this year’s WWII Weekend wasn’t the greatest, with cloudy/overcast conditions and the threat of rain the entire weekend. As such, several aircraft scheduled to attend did not make it, which was a disappointment because one that I really wanted to see again was the Chance-Vought FG-1D Corsair flown in by the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, shown here in 2015:

Chance-Vought FG-1D Corsair

Chance-Vought FG-1D Corsair

 

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Contributing Author & Technical Support
Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

Sources:
1. Reading Regional Airport website. https://www.readingairport.org/info/history.html

2. Wikipedia website. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_Regional_Airport