By Sarah Rafique

Harker Heights Herald

TEMPLE - John Stofer never thought he would fly.

Stofer, of Houston, manned the B-17G Flying Fortress, Texas Raiders, a World War II heavy bomber that belongs to the Commemorative Air Force, during the Central Texas Airshow.

"I've loved airplanes since I was a little boy, I got my pilot's license in high school," said Stofer, who has been a civilian pilot for 46 years. "I joined this program 33 years ago simply wanting to help. I never thought I'd get to fly anything, and now I'm flying the trainers and the fighters and the bombers."

Stofer was among families, friends and military veterans gathered Sunday as black plumes of smoke filled the air, while WWII-era war planes buzzed and circled the sky the during the three-day event at the Draughon-Miller Central Texas Regional Airport.

Stofer said there were only 13,000 B-17s built during WWII, and only 10 of the famous planes, known as "the queen of the skies," are still flying today.

'History lesson'

The airshow, which drew an estimated crowd of 20,000, featured modern aerobatics stunts and a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The recreation included the B-17 and replica Japanese aircraft that were created for the movie "Tora, Tora, Tora."

Mike Burke, of Galveston, has been involved with the Commemorative Air Force for 40 years and became interested in airplanes because his father was a WWII pilot.

Burke, who served in the Marine Corps for six years, flew a P-51 Mustang, coined "the most famous fighter of all time," during the show.

"We don't glorify war, It's a history lesson. We're just teaching history lessons," he said.

Maureen Polivka, a volunteer from Georgetown, has been attending the show, which is in its 10th year in Temple, with her family for years. Her father, retired Air Force Col. Philip O'Neill, said attending air shows brings back memories of growing up near an Army training base in Wyoming.

"As a little boy in my backyard before school every morning I'd see these waves of B-17s roaring over the house ... and that got me very interested in airplanes," said O'Neill. "It's very well organized, it's very clean, it's very peaceable, very family-oriented. I think it's a really great thing for the community to put on for the people."

Beth Ann Jenkins, coordinator for the Central Texas Airshow, has helped organize the event since it began 26 years ago. Jenkins, who runs a flight school in Georgetown, where the show first debuted, started the program to encourage people to learn how to fly.

"We restore these airplanes and keep them in flying condition as a flying history lesson," Stofer said. "We fly them all over the country and show them to the public so they can not only see them standing static and quiet in a museum, but they can see them, feel them, hear them and ride on them."

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