BRUNSWICK – Joshua Steinmeyer had seen a P-40K fighter plane before — he built one as a plastic model. But Joshua was standing in front of the real thing Saturday. This aircraft was built in 1942, and crash landed after battling Nazi fighters in Russia.

“It’s awesome,” said the 11-year-old. “I like how the design is, and how they fly.”

Within hours, Joshua and thousands of other spectators would see the single-seat fighter soar, along with other vintage military aircraft at The Great State of Maine Air Show.

This was actually Joshua’s first air show. And like many people who came to the event, the Waterville boy was drawn to a collection of World War II aircraft. On display was power and mechanical beauty, but also a story of how these warplanes preserved American freedom, when it truly was at stake.

This is the second year since the Brunswick Naval Air Station closed that the show has been held.

The air show tradition dates to 1962, when the first one coincided with a visit by President Kennedy, who was vacationing in Maine. The event grew over time, with the base becoming the state’s largest city for a weekend, with 100,000 spectators watching from the tarmac on a sunny day.

Now the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority has taken on much of the work, lining up hundreds of volunteers and bearing the $700,000 to $800,000 cost, which is being offset by an admission charge.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended the show last year, which was canceled on the Sunday of the event because of Tropical Storm Irene. This year, morning fog burned off in time to give spectators a warm, partly sunny Saturday.

As they waited for the flying to begin, hundreds of people toured the vintage warplanes clustered in a far corner of the vast tarmac. Among them were the P-40K and four other restored planes owned by the Texas Flying Legends Museum, which has its summer home at the Wiscasset Airport.

They included an F4U Corsair, a formidable fighter that the Japanese nicknamed “Whistling Death” for the noise it made from its wing-mounted air intakes; a P-51D Mustang, a shiny, long-range escort fighter; a B-25J bomber, with its snarling face tipped with machine guns; and a Japanese Zero, the nimble warplane of the kind that attacked Pearl Harbor.

Some of the crowd knew the specifications of these planes, how fast they could fly, the technological advances they represented. Others appreciated their place in winning a war that changed history.

Judi Murphy of South Portland marveled at both the beauty of the machines, and the alliances the United States has forged today with the countries these planes were built to battle.

“It’s amazing, the fact that we’re all friends now,” she said.

These aircraft, said Doug Rozendaal, one of the Texas Flying Legends pilots, were flown by a now-fading generation of Americans to ensure that their children could live free.

“We use these airplanes to tell a story,” he said. “It causes people to remember what these aircraft fought for.”

But it’s a story that is getting harder to tell to young Americans, Rozendaal said. They can’t imagine a time when people didn’t drive their cars because gasoline was rationed, tires were hard to find and automakers were manufacturing military vehicles.

“I don’t think they understand the scale of World War II,” he said.

Terri Steinmeyer, Joshua’s mother, agreed with that assessment. Her son’s grandfather served in the Air Force in Korea and Vietnam. She has lived during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

“But I don’t think his generation has the same understanding,” she said of Joshua.

He will have an important memory, however. After she spoke, Terri Steinmeyer snapped a photo of Joshua and his brother in front of the P-40K, his favorite plane. 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]