WW II Ace Fighter Pilot – Preserving a Legacy

November 20, 2014
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Major General Don Strait – WW II Ace Fighter Pilot

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved planes. I loved building gas-powered model ones that I would fly on warm summer days or snowy winter ones, it didn’t matter. I graduated to radio controlled aircraft, which took months to build, and no time to crash or lose. Then in high school, I’d spend my weekends at local grass airstrips, hanging out with pilots of full-scale aerobatic planes that they built, or vintage planes they restored. So I decided to go to NC State to study aerospace engineering, which eventually gave way to my passion for photography.

Still today I get a thrill out of going to a fly-in, whether it is full-scale airplanes or scale radio aircraft.  For years I’ve been trying to make it to one of the Red Bull Air races, which are performed at destinations around the world. The Red Bull pilots are often former fighter pilots, and they race, bobbing, weaving and rolling around pilons over water. It’s a fast paced, challenging competition that tests the pilots aerobatic agility and their own physical limits. They even have to wear special pressurized suits to compensate for the high G-forces. I’m on the edge of my seat from “Smoke On” to the finish line!!!!

Don Strait's P51D Mustang - Jersey Jerk - Illustration by David J Ails

Don Strait’s P51D Mustang – Jersey Jerk – Illustration by David J Ails

Given my obvious love of all things “aero,” when I was recently asked if I would like to contribute to an upcoming book on Ace Fighter Pilots of World War 2, I was beside myself. These are the guys that beat all odds by flying extremely high performance aircraft to their limits, and sometimes beyond. Unlike the Red Bull Air Race, where you are disqualified for exceending the G-force limits, in war there are no rules. These veterans have pushed the limits of what a human body can withstand.

This was an opportunity for me to meet and talk with the men that made aviation history while protecting our country. These are the guys flying the planes you see in the Smithsonian and on occasion, can still see flying today at special events; planes like the P51 Mustang.

Now aging into their late 80s and early 90s there are very few WWII Ace Fighter Pilots to share their experience. Getting to meet just one and having the opportunity to talk to him and hear his stories was priceless.  But all this is an aside to the real story, which is the honor of photographing for the world to remember those heroes that fought for our country under dismal odds and horrific conditions so that you and I can enjoy our freedom today.

 

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