Phil Pardon - Commemorative Air Force Advocate
As a young boy, Lakeview Village resident Phil Pardon would skip recess to spend time drawing pictures of military aircraft with his buddy. He’s been fascinated with military planes his entire life. Now in retirement, Phil’s penchant for planes drew him to be involved in the Heart of America Wing of the Commemorative Air Force located at the New Century Airport near Gardener, KS.
This organization started when an ex-service pilot purchased a P51-Mustang used in WWII and restored it with some buddies. The four guys would fly it up and down the Rio Grande “raising cane”, as Phil describes. Soon after other ex-service pilots across the country started buying up the old planes before they were destroyed and melted down to scrap metal.
Today there are 89 chapters with 12,000 members of the Commemorative Air Force and they’ve saved about 200 of the 300,000 planes built for WWII. They believe restoring them is significant history of an important war.
“Our mission is to educate, inspire and honor through flight and living history experiences,” says Phil. “Keep alive why we are free. Airforce in WWII had a lot to do with that.”
The Heart of America Wing is responsible for maintaining two of the WWII aircraft: a PT-19 which is currently in restoration being refurbished and the PT-13 Stearman. The Stearman was the primary trainer, the first aircraft that young pilots flew to learn how to fly.
As part of the Heart of America Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, those who still have their pilots license will occasionally provide rides to the public in the old aircraft built in 1939 which thankfully is still in great shape today.
“I want them to know that freedom isn’t free,” adds Phil. “And it isn’t passed along the blood lines. You have to fight for it and it’s probably good for one generation at a time to understand that you could lose it really easily. Respect what we have as freedom and be willing to sacrifice for it.”