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The Force Is Strong With This One

It was while riding a bike in a park that Troy Wigham witnessed the value of preserving America’s rich military and aviation heritage. “I saw a battle re-enactment and was impressed. The re-enactors told me that there would be a second battle re-enactment later that evening. I went back and the second battle was different than the first and my interest was sparked from there”, he said. Troy Wigham is a re-enactor for the Florida Fly Boys, a group of young men who travel throughout the southeast region as re-enactors preserving the legacy of America’s fighting men and women of wars past. In 2007, he began as an Airborne and infantry re-enactor but then favored the Army Air Corps.” I started going to some of the Fly-ins such as Fun n Sun in Lakeland, Florida and setting up booths. I wanted to educate the public, mainly kids about how we got to where we are as a nation”.

Participating in such re-enactments gave he and his fellow re-enactors a chance to have meet and greets with actual remaining members of the famed C.A.F. Flying Tigers and the Doolittle Raiders. But it didn’t just stop there. Some of the members of the Florida Fly Boys were also members of other re-enactment groups that represented the legacy of WWII infantry units as well as the Vietnam War. “A lot of the people that we meet at these re-enactments are family members of those who actually fought in these wars. So we let them try on some of the equipment to give them an idea of what it was like to be young and carry heavy loads of equipment around all day.” Many children and grandchildren of veterans, beyond war movies or videogames have no idea of what their fathers and grandfathers were up against. At the Vietnam base camp at the 2016 Sun n Fun, the authenticity was completely accurate down to the magazines and playing cards from that period. Many Vietnam veterans on hand agreed that the display was very accurate and reminiscent of that particular war.

When asked what his favorite aircrafts are from each war, he clearly knows military aviation. “For World War One I am gonna have to say the FE5A IV. For WWII, I will have to say most definitely the P-51 Mustang because of its speed and range. The Corsair was also an excellent plane. The fact that pilots flew it without being able to fully see the carrier deck shows the guts and skill of the pilots.” For the Axis air fleet, Wigham chose the German ME 109. “It was a real war machine. It flew at the beginning of the war and was still in service at the war’s end. It was intimidating”. Now after WWII and the introduction of the ME 262 Stormbird, the world’s first operational jet, the Korean War was the age of jets.

According to Wigham, “The F-86 Saber was an awesome plane in its own right, but the Corsair and Skyraiders were still very resourceful in terms of ground cover and close air support for the troops on the ground. Helicopters were just beginning to be used for rescue and medevac. But my vote will be for the Skyraiders and Corsairs.”For the Vietnam War, he chose an all time favorite, the F-4 Phantom. Much of Wigham’s vote is based on the fact that despite its ugly appearance, it was used by three branches of the military. Despite initially not having a gun, it gave the North Vietnamese Air Force hell during Operation Bolo, Linebacker, and Rolling Thunder. Now for Desert Storm, Wigham gave a nod to the A-10 Thunderbolt or “Warthog”. “Despite the recent attempts to retire the A-10, during Operation Desert Storm did was it was built and designed to do, bust enemy tanks and infantry support.” The A-10 is a prime example of how a single aircraft, just like with WWII prop planes such as the Corsair and Skyraider, can have multiple generational war time applications amid distinctively different wars. “The A-10 deserves to fly because its still relevant. We’ve only recently retired the last F-4’s a few weeks ago and were talking about a plane that flew in the Vietnam War and flew with multiple foreign national air forces since then. Despite his honorable mention for the A-10, Wigham gives his choice for best aircraft for Desert Storm to the F-117. The F-117 didn’t engage in traditional aerial dogfights like those of wars past, but it was very effective and lethal at punching out the eyes and ears of Saddam’s ability to coordinate his forces against the Allied Coalition.

Not only is Troy Wigham a profound military aviation enthusiast and re-enactor, but he’s a major Star Wars fan and “Trekkie”. He can be seen at many comicons dressed as a host of science fiction and super heroes. His most notable is that of the X-wing fighter pilot.” I love the X-wing fighter because it is the iconic fighter of the Rebellion and it boasts of flexibility. Anyone can fly it in a relatively short length of time. It looks like how a space fighter should look and even looks fast standing still. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Hispanic, or a woman.” When you view all of the Star Wars movie, you only see storm troopers commanding the Tie Fighters. However, you do in fact see much diversity in those who pilot Rebel spacecraft.

“I like how you take Luke Skywalker, a farm boy one week. And the next he’s a part of a remarkable air attack force and saves the day in a space plane that he’s never flown before. What many do not know is that the climactic Death Star battle is based on an actual air battle in WWI”. Wigham also references how both cinematic franchises still carry a common theme which is why they are still iconic. “I look back to when I was a kid watching Star Trek, and there you see Captain Kirk, with a flip phone questioning and attempting to save a primitive planet. We see a reoccurring theme of technology vs humanity and a host of creatures that occupy the galaxy. We also see how some of the technology on Star Trek was science fiction then but we actually have cell phones now”. True enough, the reoccurring themes are that there are many different species that must inhabit the same space and co-exist peacefully. However, greed, politics, personal agendas often corrupts and destroys lives, alliances, and in some cases entire planets.

“My favorite military aviation movie is 12 o’clock high. Its more about leadership rather than action Top Gun heroics. It was the right movie at the right time. My favorite military movie is in fact Aliens which although its considered science fiction, it still evolves around a group of Marines on a rescue mission but after key leaders are killed, the mission changes to combat and survival.” Thanks to patriotic buffs, enthusiasts, and scholars such as Troy Wigham and his fellow Florida Flyboys, the legacy of the past will never die. When asked about the various planes that are featured at some of the air shows that he frequents, many are skeptical. Many are willing pay hundreds of dollars at a single time for a 10 minute flight aboard a vintage WWII plane. “People need to be able to climb inside of a B-17 or B-25 and see the limited and dangerous space that these young men had to operate out of. It’s nothing at all like a commercial plane today. No comforts, just metal and a seat. People tell me, many of these planes should be in a museum sitting still. But so that people can see what it was aerial combat and flight was like at that particular time, some need to fly”.

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