Reagan National Airport will be closed to commercial traffic for an hour Friday as the skies over Washington fill with the roar of an antique air armada buzzing the capital in honor of World War II veterans.
The “Arsenal of Democracy Flyover” is scheduled to bring scores of World War II vintage aircraft in a 50-minute aerial salute to veterans and mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945.
Fifty-six bombers, fighters, dive bombers and trainers are scheduled to fly over the Potomac River, the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II Memorial and the Capitol, starting at 12:10 p.m.
The airport will be closed from noon to 1 p.m. to accommodate the flyover, organizers said.
The planes — P-51, P-40 and P-38 fighters, as well as B-17, B-25, and B-29 bombers, among others — will fly in 15 separate formations at 90-second intervals.
The flyover, which is dependent on the weather, will start at the American Legion Memorial Bridge, which connects Fairfax and Montgomery counties.
The airplanes must have cloud cover no lower than 2,000 feet and visibility of five miles. The rain date is Saturday.
The flight will be the climax of a rain-or-shine ceremony and wreath laying at the World War II Memorial. The ceremony is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m.
Hundreds of World War II veterans as well as foreign dignitaries are expected. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is scheduled to speak.
The term “arsenal of democracy” was used in a 1940 address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he urged that the United States provide Great Britain material help in the fight against Nazi Germany. The United States was not yet in the war then.
The National Park Service and the Friends of the National World War II Memorial are helping to organize the event on the ground.
The aircraft for Friday’s event will take off from two airports in Virginia.
Most bombers will fly from Manassas, and most fighters will fly from Culpeper.
On Wednesday, the Culpeper Regional Airport was busy with colorfully painted fighters and dark blue Navy dive bombers preparing for the flyover. Overhead, a huge B-29 circled, and three trainers flew by in formation.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Beth Jenkins, one of the pilots of Devil Dog, the dark blue B-25 bomber. “That’s what we live for. To really honor those who have honored us.”
Many of the airplanes are scheduled to be on display Saturday at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Va.