In the trenches

Relive World War I at the United States Air Force Museum

By Mark Luedtke

Photo: A reenactor stands with his aircraft at the World War I Dawn Patrol Rendezvous in 2011, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force; photo: U.S. Air Force

Imagine cowering in a World War I trench while biplane aces fight overhead.

Now, you don’t have to imagine. On Sept. 27 and 28, the National Museum of the United States Air Force will present a one-of-a-kind event. This year, the biannual Dawn Patrol Rendezvous will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. To put together a fitting tribute to the men who fought in that war, museum organizers delayed the Dawn Patrol event a year from its normal schedule to produce a unique event unmatched anywhere in the world.

Stephen Skinner, author of “THE STAND: The Final Flights of Lt. Frank Luke Jr.” and renowned expert on World War I aviation, has narrated the event since 2009. He explained what makes the Dawn Patrol Rendezvous so special.

“It is very difficult to find events that are dedicated to World War I aviation as opposed to World War II or the jet age, so the uniqueness of the Dawn Patrol Rendezvous really piques my interest,” he said. “I love the old biplanes and have spent most of my life researching those planes and the men who flew them. The fact is the whole war was, like nearly all wars, a bloody, horrific and entirely unnecessary train wreck, but there is still a certain fictional romance associated with the era in which it occurred.”

This year’s event is more than just an airshow. More than 60 re-enactors, dressed in period clothing and carrying period items, will immerse spectators in World War I history. At least 20 vendors will offer the world’s best World War I memorabilia for sale. More than 20 World War I-era cars will be on display. More than 75 radio-controlled model World War I aircraft will fly.

This event is not geared just for enthusiasts. This event is geared to people of all ages, including children and people from all walks of life. Event Coordinator David C. Thomas described what spectators will see when they arrive.

“Spectators will enter the event through a mock-up of a World War I trench that will then place them in the re-enactor encampment,” Thomas said. “After they are transformed into the World War I ground battle, they will see the flying aircraft which cover the air aspect of the war. In addition to the aircraft, they will also see radio-controlled models flying and antique cars of the era driving around the grounds.”

Of course, the major attraction of the show is the replica World War I-era aircraft and their pilots. More than 20 aircraft will be available on the ground for spectators to examine when not flying, and pilots will talk about their planes, the war and answer questions.

The event also caters to children.

“The younger audience can learn the mechanics of how aircraft fly from the educational activities in the activities tent,” Thomas said. “They also learn American history from the early 1900s. We provide youth a checklist of information they can use to meet with pilots to learn about aircraft and aviation, which can assist Boy Scouts with obtaining their Aviation merit badge.”

Pilots won’t just fly their aircraft over the field. In World War I, pilots literally dropped bombs from their airplanes by hand. The Dawn Patrol aircraft will reenact bombing runs, competing at hitting targets with sacks of flour dropped from their planes in flight.

Other World War I historical organizations have teamed up with the Air Force Museum to contribute to this one-of-a-kind event.

“The League of World War I Aviation Historians has moved their semi-annual seminar to Dayton for the occasion, and the Fight In The Skies Society has a presence there as well,” Skinner said.

Thomas noted additional activities: “The event will feature a speakers bureau, where there will be seven speakers/authors each day in a speaker’s tent talking specifically on World War I topics,” he said. “Each will make a 45-minute presentation with time for questions and answers. In the same activities tent will be the Buckeye Gamers in Flight with a table-top sized World War I board game called Wings of Glory.”

Skinner provided perspective on why the Dawn Patrol Rendezvous is so important to all Americans, not just enthusiasts. “I think this event is important for visitors because it is a representation of a time period that is rarely recreated,” he said. “The 20th century didn’t really begin in 1900; it began in 1918. World War I re-drew the world map. Nobody had computers on their desks. The world worked mechanically. It was truly a pivotal point in history and this event recreates it better than anything you can imagine.”

And the Rendezvous recreates it in a way not seen anywhere else.

Skinner compared this year’s event to Halley’s Comet. “The 100th anniversary of World War I is a once-in-a-lifetime event, as are the commemorations of it,” Skinner said. “Right now, we have a limited-time window in which we have access to people who personally knew and spoke with veterans of the war, and once this generation passes, there will be no one left to speak on the topic from any sort of personal experience. At that point, knowledge of the war will be finite and limited to history books alone. But the Dawn Patrol Rendezvous brings the entire period back to life for just a few brief days, and then the opportunity will be gone.”

The Dawn Patrol Rendezvous takes place Saturday, Sept. 27 and Sunday, Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Wright Field behind the Air Force museum, 1100 Spaatz St., Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Another entrance is available via the intersection of Airway Rd. and Spinning Rd. The event and parking are free.

Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at

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