Tora! Tora! Tora!
When the flight came in low for the approach to Brookhaven,those who heard the deep rattle of the big radial engines knewimmediately – “that ain’t no Cessna.”
A combination of cinematic and military history descended out ofthe crisp blue sky and touched down at Brookhaven Municipal AirportFriday morning, when six aircraft that fly as part of the Tora,Tora, Tora reenactment group of the Commemorative Air Force toucheddown for fuel. The pit stop for gas and on-the-spot maintenance wasmade in the midst of a long flight from the CAF’s home in Midland,Texas to Monroe, N.C., where the volunteer pilots were scheduled toperform their famous act recreating the attack on Pearl Harbor atan air show this weekend.
“It’s the longest-running civilian air show in the world,” saidDoug Derr, who’s been flying with the group since 2001. “It’sbecome a history lesson that’s morphed into an appreciation for allsoldiers in all wars.”
The flight was named after the 1970 classic film “Tora! Tora!Tora!” which depicts the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S.Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 – the act thatbrought America into World War II.
The phrase “tora, tora, tora” was transmitted from the attackingforce to Japanese aircraft carries and signaled the achievement ofcomplete surprise. Translated into English, it means “tiger, tiger,tiger.”
Since few Japanese military aircraft survived the war – and thehandful that remain are priceless – the film studio decided torecreate the imperial war planes from American training aircraftfrom the period. The AT-6 Texan and BT-13 Valiant were heavilymodified to represent combat aircraft like the Mitsubishi A6M”Zero” fighter, the Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber and theAichi D3A “Val” dive-bomber.
After the production of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” the film studiodonated its mocked-up aircraft to CAF. The group’s Gulf Coast Wingreceived the planes and choreographed the reenactment, completewith pyrotechnics, explosions and a dramatic narration of thehistory.
The show debuted at the Galveston Air Show in Texas on June 25,1972, and has been performed at air shows across the world for 38years. The rugged old replica aircraft are among the most famous inthe aviation world, and played a prominent role in the 2001action-drama “Pearl Harbor.”
Giving spectators a first-hand view at the tactics, allowingthem to feel the heat from the fireballs, is the best way to teacha living history lesson on that most-important day in 1941.
“It was the trigger that got us into World War II and all thetechnological expansion that came with it,” Derr said. “It was thefirst step that put the U.S. on the road to becoming a superpower.”
The group usually performs 12-16 shows a year.
And, sometimes, they have to stop in towns like Brookhaven forgas. The old planes’ big engines produce an average fuel economy of30 gallons per hour at 125 knots, which is equivalent to about 144mph.
That’s a little less than five miles per gallon. They came toBrookhaven because the gas is cheap.
“I try to keep it low so the guys flying cross-country will stopin here,” said Dr. Al Morrow, manager of Brookhaven’s airport.”Fuel here is about $1 cheaper than the rest of the area.”
Morrow said he knew the Tora, Tora, Tora group would be aspecial flight when they began calling in their approaches on theradio. He could tell by the number of aircraft keying up they mustbe some kind of air show.
He didn’t know who they were until they taxied in from therunway.
“I’m always excited to see them, always happy to see them,”Morrow said. “I think it’s great we keep the old aircraftalive.”
The Tora, Tora, Tora group adds to a line of prominenthistorical or military aircraft that have stopped for a rest inBrookhaven. The airport has also hosted a World War II-era B-25Mitchell, a famous U.S. medium bomber used primarily in the PacificTheater; and most recently a pair of modern U.S. Army AH-64 Apacheattack helicopters made a pit stop.
Morrow said the airport averages about four visits per year bysuch aircraft.