When a fleet of vintage warbirds takes to the skies over Washington, D.C., Friday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, U.S. Naval Test Pilot School Executive Officer Cmdr. Jeremy DeBons will be among them.
DeBons will be flying a Piper L-4 Grasshopper, the military version of the ubiquitous Piper Cub, as part of the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover Sept. 25, during which more than 70 aircraft will fly over the Washington Mall in historically sequenced formations representing the war’s major battles and concluding with a missing-man formation.
“I am incredibly honored to be participating and to see the level of participation from World War II aircraft and their owners across the country, especially during the pandemic,” DeBons said. “The organizers have put in countless hours of planning to ensure we remain safe in the air and healthy on the ground.”
The airplane that DeBons will be flying is actually a civilian Piper J-3-65 built in 1939 that has been restored to a World War II-era L-4 configuration complete with distinctive black-and-white D-Day invasion stripes. DeBons was originally scheduled to be a backup pilot for the aircraft’s owner, Art Nalls, a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, vintage aircraft restorer, and airshow pilot based in California, Maryland, but a last-minute schedule conflict put DeBons in the pilot seat for the event.
DeBons first flew the airplane in 2012, earning his tailwheel endorsement while flying it from local grass airstrips. He has continued to fly it a fair amount since then, both solo and with friends, as well as giving flight instruction.
“It’s a blast to fly and it has taught me an incredible amount about stick and rudder skills, with a healthy dose of humility, as it is unforgiving in some regimes.” DeBons said.
Friday’s flyover is sponsored by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the International Council of Airshows, and the Commemorative Air Force. It is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. DeBons’ airplane will be part of the Civil Air Patrol formation.
“On a personal level, it is reassuring to see that the citizens of the United States continue to recognize the immense sacrifice that the Greatest Generation paid for our freedoms and security,” DeBons said. That sacrifice is deeply personal to DeBons; both of his grandfathers served in World War II, one in the Navy as a Seabee in the Pacific and one in the Army as an infantryman in Europe. They both returned from the war, but his great uncle was lost along with over a thousand of his shipmates when his ship, USS Indianapolis (CA 35), was sunk by a Japanese submarine after delivering two atomic bombs to the South Pacific island of Tinian just a month before the war’s end.
“I am proud to do it for them,” DeBons said.