Joel Zimmer will have a backseat view he will never forget when he takes to the air in a Second World War-era P-51 Mustang for a flight over Pearl Harbor this fall.
On the stick in the vintage fighter plane will be Edmonton’s Drew Watson who, with brother David Watson, fly for the Yellow Thunder Formation Aerobatic Team.
The brothers fly vintage Harvard aircraft out of Ponoka’s airport. Hundreds of pilots learned to fly in Harvards out of the air base at Springbrook during the Second World War.
Zimmer was raised in Red Deer and learned to fly in the 1990s through an aviation program that was offered at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School until the early 2000s.
“We had a working flight simulator. It was an A-26 flight simulator that was in the classroom.”
It was supplied by firefighting company Air Spray, which used the vintage planes as water bombers.
After getting his pilot’s licence in 1999, Zimmer’s first job was seeding thunderstorms with silver iodide as part of the Alberta Hail Suppression Project. The silver iodide is released as a smoke that crystallizes reducing the size of hail stones or turning them into rain.
Seeding clouds help reduce the hail storms that can have a devastating effect on crops. It is a job that Zimmer still does, both here in Alberta and in California.
Based out of Modesto, California, he and other pilots seed the clouds to try to promote rainfall to fill the area reservoir.
Zimmer and Drew Watson flew together last summer as part of the hail suppression project.
“Drew and I were colleagues last summer on the hail suppression project, so we became friends.
“With him being my friend it just makes it more special.
“You have two guys from central Alberta over in Hawaii flying a U.S. Army Air Force historic aircraft. Those opportunities just don’t come around very often.
“I’m pretty pumped.”
“There’s only more aircraft I want to fly and that’s the F-14 Tomcat and after that I’ll be ready to retire,” he said with a laugh.
The flight will take Watson and Zimmer over the U.S.S Arizona, which remains as a permanent memorial to the sailors who died on Dec. 7, 1941. The remains of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors who died on the ship are still there.
They will also fly over the USS Utah and Wheeler Field, which was a U.S. Army airfield attacked by the Japanese, who destroyed more than 80 aircraft on the ground.
A number of events are being planned at Pearl Harbour to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the attack.