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Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow roars back to life

Featuring rare warbirds, star-studded country concert, night airshow

Despite high temperatures and 30-mph gusts, nearly 15,000 people gathered at the Granite Falls Municipal Airport/Lenzen-Roe-Fagen Memorial Field in Granite Falls, Minnesota, on June 18 for the Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow.

C–47 crew members sit atop their aircraft for prime airshow viewing. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt.

Let’s face it: Once you’ve seen one or two airshows, haven’t you seen them all? Well, that’s what I thought before attending the Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum.

In what might be one of the country’s greatest displays of historic warbirds, airshow management, and attendee satisfaction, my airshow expectations have been completely changed thanks to the hard work of the Fagen family, museum staff, and volunteers.

Instead of finding souvenirs and corn dogs at every corner, there were veterans. Veterans wearing World War II service hats, veterans in uniform, and veterans wearing the American flag. The day’s events were even kickstarted by three World War II fighter pilots—Huie Lamb, Jim Tyler, and Donald McPherson—who sat at show-stage center and took turns sharing stories with the crowd.

Not only could attendees shake the hands of the service members who proudly served their nation, but they were also encouraged to get up close and personal with the warbirds.

North American P–51 Mustangs, a Lockheed P–38 Lightning, a Grumman F6F Hellcat, and a Vought F4U Corsair were just a few of the fighter aircraft on display. Vultee BT–13 Valiant pilot and performer Devyn Reiley said, “The event [was] an incredible example of all the phases of airplanes and the training of our pilots of World War [II]. Every phase [was] here. From super early on in the war to later, it’s just always good to see all these airplanes out here to fly.”

And fly is just what they did. For approximately three hours, warbird performers took to the skies to demonstrate wartime dogfights, aerobatic routines, and formation displays.

Twenty-two-year-old pilot Parker Rathbun flew the Commemorative Air Force’s SNJ-5 Nakajima B5N replica Kate (a combination of a BT–13 and a North American T–6 Texan) in the show. Not only did he enjoy flying as part of the Tora Tora Tora Airshows act, he also enjoyed spectating. “There [were] a lot of cool airplanes. Mustangs, [P–40s], a real Zero, Hurricane, Spitfire. I just enjoyed all the performances.”

At the conclusion of the airshow, attendees were encouraged to stick around for a free (with admission) concert from country music star Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry. The concert, which took place in a grassy amphitheater nestled among museum hangars, attracted thousands of country music fans who lined up in rows of lawn chairs or blankets on the grass. Montgomery thanked veterans between songs, thanked the airshow crowd for coming out, and managed to not get blown off stage by the 30-mph gusts.

After an encore from Montgomery, attendees made their way back to the flight line to mark their spot for a night airshow performance by Matt Younkin of Younkin Airshows. The performance, sponsored by the Fagen Fighters Restoration team, was concluded with a “Wall of Fire” display from the Tora Tora Tora Airshows pyrotechnics team.

“It was just such a fun show,” said Sam Walsh, a second-time volunteer. “And what the Fagen family does for aviation is just incredible. Not only is it a huge win for the aviation community, but it’s a win for this small-town community too.”

Country music star Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry performed for the airshow crowd at the conclusion of the afternoon acts. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt.

Marilee Hartman poses with her grandson underneath of Spooky, a C–47 from Kansas. Hartman's father trained Hellcat mechanics during World War II. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt. Devyn Reiley prepares her BT–13 for flight ahead of the airshow. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt. Casey Cain signs her husband’s name, Don Cain, on a poster that veterans were encouraged to sign throughout the event. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt. Left to right, Huie Lamb, moderator Edward Mcllhenny, Jim Tyler, and Donald McPherson sat on a panel to share their experiences as World War II fighter pilots with the crowd. The veterans were framed by their wartime airframes. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt. Although hot and windy, nearly 15,000 people gathered at the small-town Minnesota airport for a day of action-packed aviation fun. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt. Ray Fowler takes off ahead of his solo North American P–51 Mustang aerobatic routine. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt. Evan Fagen taxis toward the runway in the museum's Hellcat. Photo by Cayla McLeod Hunt.
Cayla McLeod

Cayla McLeod Hunt

Social Media Marketer
Social Media Marketer Cayla McLeod Hunt is a private pilot with a love for tailwheel and backcountry aircraft. When she isn't writing stories, she enjoys flying with friends and introducing others to general aviation.

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