June 5 – The silver warbird’s nose lifted, the wind whipping the open cockpit as 80 years of aviation history soared towards partly cloudy skies.
Thomas Burbank, an airplane enthusiast from North Reading, Mass., put his camera down long enough to catch the rhythmic ‘rat-tat-tat’ of the old engine as it passed.
“You don’t hear an engine like that too often,” Burbank said.
Aviation enthusiasts may hear the distinctive sound of the 1942 World War II Warbird PT-23 warplane more often in the skies of New Hampshire and the region in the future, thanks to the efforts of a Manchester teenager and his father.
Eighteen-year-old Nick Infantino and his father, Paul, are part of the New England Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting aviation.
Nick Infantino, a senior who will be graduating from Trinity High School later this week, started the CAF’s first New England chapter in March 2021 and is the youngest unit leader in the 65-year history of the CAF. ‘organization.
“I love doing this stuff,” Infantino said. “The people are great. The most important thing is to try to get more people my age involved in this stuff. The CAF motto is ‘Honor, Educate and Inspire’, and that’s what we do here.”
Infantino will attend Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall to study in the Airframe and Power Plant (A&P) Mechanic certification program, after serving on the crew of a B-29 Superfortress this summer during shows flights and events.
“I also hope to get my private pilot license because they want me to fly the PT-23 eventually,” he said.
Paul Infantino said he was not surprised his son had taken a liking to the aviation industry.
“I would take him, at 4, to air shows, and walk him around to see all the planes,” he said. “I have pictures of him on my shoulders with the planes.
The CAF is the world’s largest collection of restored World War II aircraft used to promote aviation throughout history. Nick Infantino said the New England area is teeming with aviation enthusiasts.
“Some of the biggest crowds they got were at events at Nashua Airfield, so the CAF wanted a unit in New England,” he said. He set out to secure hangar space at Hampton, recruited the minimum 30 members needed to start a unit, and found aircraft sponsors.
The roster has grown to 40 members and the PT-23 represents the first aircraft the unit has acquired, at a purchase price of $55,000.
“The process hasn’t been easy,” Nick Infantino said. “There were a lot of steps involved and we were able to get through all of them.”
PT-23 aircraft were used by the United States Army Air Corps as a primary trainer during World War II. Air Corps pilots were trained in three stages: primary, basic, and advanced, before being sent to operational units to fly the fighter aircraft. Pilots began their training in simple primary aircraft like a PT-23.
The PT-23 took off from Dallas, Texas, on June 2, bound for the CAF hangar in Hampton, but landed at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Friday due to low deck cloud in the area of Seacoast, said Nick Infantino. Around 2 p.m. Sunday, Garrett Miller and Tom Bear piloted the warbird to Hampton Airfield, completing the final leg of the plane’s first flight since 2016.
The plane will be housed at Hampton Airfield, where the New England CAF meet once a month in the flight school building.
“CAF wants people to see these historic aircraft up close, feel and hear the engines live, and actually see them fly, not just exhibits inside a museum,” said Paul Infantino. “In the near future, we will be offering rides at our events. This is just the beginning of our already very active Memorial Air Force Wing events throughout New England and in particular in New Hampshire.”