From Dan Fordice’s vantage point high above the crowd, the annual air-sea battle at the USS Kidd on the Fourth of July is a “whole different show.”
Fordice sees the mock attack from the cramped, stuffy cockpit of a P-51 Mustang where the overwhelming noise from the engine drowns out spectators’ cheers and even the blasts from the World War II destroyer’s guns.
“We’re in these tight formations about 5 to 10 feet away from the other planes,” Fordice said. “We can’t hear anything except our own plane. We can’t even see the ship for the most part. But it sure is exciting.”
Fordice will be flying his World War II fighter aircraft during the staged battle between five vintage warplanes and the USS Kidd, a Fletcher-class destroyer.
The air show is a popular part of downtown Baton Rouge’s “Star-Spangled Celebration” of Independence Day, a daylong festival that includes food, drinks and live music capped off with a spectacular fireworks show.
Fordice and fellow flier John Fallis have participated in the air show for years, but always as the enemy forces with planes that resemble Japanese Zeros, Fordice said.
This year, the two WWII history buffs get to play the good guys.
“We’re going to chase off the Japanese aircrafts and back up the ship as it shoots at the enemy,” Fallis said. “It’s pretty neat.”
Maury Drummond, director of the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, said this year’s mock attack will be bigger and better than any other staged at the ship.
The battle got a boost of pyrotechnics with the help of the Discovery Channel, which is filming the air show as part of a new series called “Sons of Guns.”
“It will be more exciting than ever before,” Drummond said.
More guns on the ship will be firing blanks at the “enemy” planes, as smoke plumes out from the barrels and explosions in the river simulate bombs dropping, he said.
Fordice said the planes will “finally be able to shoot back” this year as special effects will create the look of bullets hitting the water.
The pilots enacting the battlehave all flown together many times, Fordice said, adding that each is highly trained in formation flying.
“It’s high-speed in very tight formations with limited visibility and you can’t hear anything,” he said. “But you know exactly what to expect from the other pilots and exactly what they’re going to do.”
Fordice and Fallis, who both restore and fly vintage planes as a hobby, said that reenacting a WWII battle has a special significance.
Fallis’ father was a WWII veteran, he said, and the P-40 Warhawk that Fallis flies was actually once on display in the USS Kidd. Fallis acquired it from the museum and spent 10 years rebuilding it, he said.
Fordice opened a WWII museum in his hometown of Vicksburg, Miss., and has interviewed numerous WWII veterans to document their experiences, he said.
“We all owe them a lot,” Fordice said. “It’s important that the next generation knows what that generation went through in order for us to keep moving forward.”
The vintage warplanes are another way Fordice honors the soldiers’ sacrifices.
“It’s one thing to see the planes hanging from the ceiling of a museum, but it’s another to see it fly, hear it and smell it,” he said. “It’s very important that people see and remember what these planes are all about.”
The air show takes place in the middle of a Fourth of July celebration that lasts all day.
The BASF Freedom Mile begins the festivities with a one-mile race at 8 a.m. through downtown Baton Rouge.
The USS Kidd will be open for touring from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Food and drink booths will open at noon, and live music kicks off at 3 p.m. with a show by West Bound Train featuring Anita LeBlanc. Na Na Sha takes the stage at 4:30 p.m.
The air show starts at 6 p.m. with a flyover by three Louisiana Air National Guard F15 Eagle jets to honor the men and women in uniform.
The mock WWII battle begins immediately after the flyover.
Hot-air balloons will also lift off from the levee between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Live music begins again at 6:30 p.m. and will continue until the “Fireworks on the Mississippi” show begins at about 9 p.m.
The festival is free, but those who want a closer view of the fireworks have some options.
For $10, spectators can see the show from the deck of the USS Kidd.
Another great view of the fireworks can be had from Manship Theatre’s Fourth on the 4th at the Shaw Center.
Tickets are $50 for adults, $25 for children 12 and younger and can be purchased at http://manshiptheatre.org.