Air Expo 2011 to include Pearl Harbor attack re-enactment group

Air Expo 2011 at the Charleston Air Force Base this spring will feature the Pearl Harbor re-enactment 'Tora, Tora, Tora.' The 20-minute display will re-create the attack that thrust the U.S. into World War II using aircraft adapted for the 1970 Hollywood

Almost 70 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a re-creation of the infamous strike is coming to the Charleston Air Force Base.

As part of Air Expo 2011, the "Tora, Tora, Tora" re-enactment group will perform, featuring a squadron of Japanese fighters and bombers that for 20 minutes will control the skies, officials announced Monday.

The one-day expo is scheduled for April 9 at the base.

The planes involved are not vintage World War II combat aircraft, but are adaptations used for the 1970 Hollywood film "Tora, Tora, Tora," a jointly produced U.S./ Japanese retelling of the battle.

At least eight of the fleet's planes will fly in the Charleston show, resembling Japanese Zero fighters, "Kate" torpedo planes and "Val" dive bombers.

Gordon Webb, pyro lead contract administrator with the group, said there are few actual vintage war planes left from the Japanese theater. The ones that still are flying "are million-dollar" aircraft, he said, too valuable for air shows.

In the "Tora" show, the Zero is a former AT-6 Texan, and the Val is a converted BT-13.

Webb said the show attempts to portray realistic snippets of what occurred that Sunday morning in Hawaii, complete with mock strafing runs, fiery bomb explosions, torpedo approaches and more than 60 pyrotechnic effects.

The experience for the crowd is to expose them to the "action of the planes and the noise and the heat of the explosions," Webb said.

Flying the aircraft does not

require any particularly advanced pilot skills, such as military performance teams, Webb said. But there is a level of training involved since there is close-in formation flying that involves multiple planes. Some of the approaches are as low as 20 feet off the ground around explosions.

"We've got planes going in every direction," Webb said.

The "Tora" program has been performing for crowds for more than 35 years. It is made up entirely of volunteers.

In addition to performing numerous shows around the country, the group has taken part in the making of numerous documentaries produced by Japanese filmmakers and historians.

The thrust of the show, Webb said, is to warn what can happen if the military is left unprepared, like what happened on Dec. 7.

It includes a narration of the battle, along with the smoke, fire and explosions.

American warplanes from other performance teams have been involved in other shows, Webb said, though it is not clear whether they will be at the base's expo that weekend.

Trisha Gallaway, a spokeswoman for Joint Base Charleston, said a group is currently studying ways to make the base entry and parking easier for the expected large crowd. Also scheduled to take part is the Air Force's Thunderbirds performance planes.

Admission to the air show is free.

As many as 30 survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack are believed to be living in South Carolina.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.