WASHINGTON - If you were near the National Mall on Friday, you may have noticed a formation of World War II-era aircrafts.
The rare honor flight is part of a kickoff for the Culpeper Airfest and it paid tribute to the sacrifices of American veterans.
These planes took off from Culpeper Regional Airport and flew over the most restricted airspace in the world. This is only the third time that a formation has flown over D.C.’s airspace since 9/11.
“It's a huge honor to be able do this because over this airspace is very symbolic, not only because of 9/11 and the attacks on the Pentagon, but you look at all the memorials and this center of the free world,” said Larry Kelley. “So to be able to fly recognizing disabled veterans over those kinds of symbols, those kinds of icons, is so important.”
Kelley piloted the lead aircraft -- a B-25 Bomber and were followed by 19 T-6 Texans.
The honor flight formation provided a spectacular view for those on the ground. For the lucky few passengers onboard the planes, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
The roughly one-hour mission left Culpeper and headed toward the Pentagon. Then they continued over the Potomac River and flew right by the National Mall.
Purple Heart recipient Ron Hope has worked for Disabled American Veterans since he lost his arm when his helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War. He spends a lot of time with recently disabled veterans.
“The first thing you say is ‘Welcome home,’” Hope said. “And the second thing is this is the beginning of a new life.”
Still an active a pilot himself, Hope was granted a rare opportunity.
“After we broke off from the flight, I climbed out of my seat and let Ron climb into the seat and he flew the airplane back here from about Leesburg back to Culpeper,” said Kelley.
It was an amazing feat in such tight quarters and also a reminder that this plane was built in a different era.
“I could not imagine doing this for 15 hours a day in World War II with people shooting at you,” said Hope. “I just don’t know how they did it.”
Also on board the plane were bomb replicas covered with dozens of names. They are signatures Kelley has gathered over the years from World War II veterans who flew in or worked on B-25 Bombers.
“These airplanes were used during a time and by a generation that truly was the greatest generation,” he said. “When mission before self was foremost.”
It was a day dedicated to honor generations of veterans and building better lives for those returning home disabled.
“I think this is an excellent way to educate the American public as to who pays the price for our freedoms every day,” said Hope.