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Warbird Digest devoted to the aircraft of World War II

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2004-11-22


The P-51 Mustang. The F4U Corsair. The B-17 Flying Fortress… The technological marvels of their day, World War II-era aircraft hold a special significance for a huge, international movement of people who study, restore, and fly these unique machines. For Tim Savage, editor and publisher of a new, Fort Wayne-based magazine called Warbird Digest, this restoration movement is a way to keep history alive.

Savage says he’s always been passionate about history, and aviation history in particular. After leaving college with a history degree, his dream was to work in an airplane museum. He quickly realized that a job as an airplane museum curator was hard to come by; making a living as an airplane museum curator would be even harder. Instead, Savage pursued technology, and in 1995 he founded Enhanced Network Solutions (ENS), a technology consulting firm for businesses.

But he kept up his interest in aviation and World Way II-era airplanes. As ENS grew and he became less and less engaged in the business, an idea for a magazine that he had been kicking around with photographer and fellow-enthusiast James Church began to take shape. Savage had been approached a few years earlier by the publishers of Warbirds Worldwide, a UK-based magazine, about taking over their operations. Savage didn’t think he could make it work, and eventually the magazine went under. But now… “The business was doing well, I had delegated a lot of the work I used to do,” Savage says. “I came in here one day in May and said ‘I’m not going to sit here and be bored anymore,’ and launched Warbird Digest.”

Published quarterly and available through subscription (for now), Warbird Digest is a high-quality, glossy magazine with striking photography and contributions from some of the most knowledgeable writers in the field. “It’s something that sits on the bookshelf a lot longer (than a typical magazine),” Savage says. “We do some news, but we’re primarily a features magazine. It’s timeless information, basically.”

For the uninitiated, Warbird Digest is not only a good read, but offers a fascinating glimpse into what Savage says is called the “warbird movement” — pilots, collectors, and historians with a passion for World War II aircraft.

A warbird can refer to any type of military aircraft, but for the civilian enthusiasts in the field, the focus is mainly on World War II-era planes. After World War II, the military began to surplus many of the fighters and bombers of the time. Some were sold to other countries, some were used for agriculture purposes or fire-fighting. In the mid-50s, however, pilots from World War II began to realize that these planes were slowly disappearing, and began buying them up and restoring them. The market continued growing over the decades as other countries began to sell these airplanes back to the US. These days, Savage says it’s a big business.

“There’s a lot of money involved. Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft and the sponsor of the X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne) is building a huge warbird collection. Jack Roush of NASCAR fame is really into WWII airplanes. He has two P-51 Mustangs.”
Most of the planes you’ll find these days didn’t actually see combat; they were used for training pilots before being sent off to Europe or the Pacific. As you might imagine, the ones that did see combat can fetch a lot of money.

Savage explains having people with a lot of money involved in the warbird movement is both a good and bad thing. Someone like Jack Roush, for example, uses his engineering and production abilities to re-create a lot of parts for airplane engines that are no longer available. “So we’ve got guys with means and technical know-how that are willing to put their personal investment into the hobby, which is great for the rest of us,” Savage says. “It brings more attention to this niche.”

On the other hand, like any collector’s field, people willing to pay lots of money for something tends to drive up the prices of some of the rarest models. “Used to be, probably in the early 80s, a normal person could buy a Mustang project. Now, you have to have a lot of money,” Savage says. “In the 60s and 70s, you could buy a Mustang for $15,000 or $20,000. By 1985, they were $250,000 or $300,000.”

Still, one of the great things about the warbird movement, explains Savage (who got his pilot’s license about five years ago and owns a couple airplanes, including a Lockheed Harpoon bomber currently undergoing restoration), is that even though the price of some of the rarer models might put it beyond the reach of someone without deep pockets, many of the airplanes are still within the means of the average middle-class pilot. “You can start in the $30,000 range and find something that you can enjoy flying. It’s something that normal people can participate in.”

With Warbird Digest, Savage hopes to reflect some of the camaraderie he’s found in the warbird movement, and capture some of the essence of what makes flying these airplanes so special. “For me, an airplane sitting in a museum is neat to see, but it doesn’t inspire anything,” he says. “The number of WWII airplanes has actually grown in the last 10 or 15 years, because people are taking wrecks and spending money to turn them into flying airplanes. People wouldn’t be doing that if they couldn’t fly them. I think if you want to keep history alive, the airplanes need to be flown. Seeing them in a museum is nice, but it’s not the same as seeing a P-51 fired up on the ramp, go out, and take off and fly.”

For more information on Warbird Digest, check out www.warbirddigest.com.

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