History takes flight: WW II plane stops at MHT en route to new home in Hampton

·3 min read

Jun. 5—The nose of the silver warbird lifted off, wind whipping through the open cockpit as 80 years of aviation history climbed towards a partly-cloudy sky.

Thomas Burbank, an airplane enthusiast from North Reading, Mass., put down his camera long enough to take in the rhythmic 'rat-tat-tat' of the ancient engine as it passed by.

"You don't hear an engine like that too often," said Burbank.

Aircraft buffs may hear the distinctive sound of the 1942 PT-23 World War II Primary Trainer warbird plane more often in the skies over New Hampshire and around the region in the future, thanks to the efforts of a Manchester teen and his dad.

Nick Infantino, 18, and his father, Paul, are with the New England Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting aviation.

Nick Infantino, a senior who will graduate from Trinity High School later this week, started the first New England chapter of the CAF in March 2021, and is the youngest unit leader in the 65-year history of the organization.

"I love doing this stuff," Infantino said. "The people are great. The biggest thing is trying to get more people my age involved in this stuff. The CAF's motto is 'Honor, Educate and Inspire,' and that's what we're doing here."

Infantino will attend Embry — Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall to study in the Airframe and Power Plant (A&P) mechanic's certification program, after crewing on a B-29 Superfortress this summer at air shows and events.

"I'm also hoping to get my private pilot's license, because they want me to eventually fly the PT-23," he said.

Paul Infantino said he's not surprised his son has taken a liking to the aviation industry.

"I used to take him, at 4 years old, to air shows, and I would take him around by hand to see all the planes," he said. "Getting pictures of him up on my shoulders with the planes."

The CAF is the largest collection of restored flying World War II planes in the world used to promote aviation through history. Nick Infantino said the New England area is full of aviation enthusiasts.

"Some of the biggest crowds they got were at events at the Nashua airfield, so the CAF wanted a unit in New England," he said. He set about securing hangar space in Hampton, recruited the minimum 30 members needed to launch a unit, and found aircraft sponsors.

The roster has grown to 40 members, and the PT-23 represents the first aircraft the unit has acquired, at a purchase price of $55,000.

"The process was not easy," said Nick Infantino. "There were a lot of steps involved and we were able to get through them all."

PT-23 aircraft were used by the United States Army Air Corps as a primary trainer during World War II. The Air Corps pilots were trained in three stages: primary, basic and advanced, before being sent to operational units to fly the combat aircraft. The pilots began their training in simple primary aircraft like a PT-23.

The PT-23 took off from Dallas, Texas, on June 2, headed for the CAF hangar in Hampton, but landed at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Friday due to a low cloud deck in the Seacoast area, Nick Infantino said. Around 2 p.m. Sunday Garrett Miller and Tom Bear piloted the warbird to Hampton Airfield, completing the final leg of the aircraft's first flight since 2016.

The plane will be housed at Hampton Airfield, where the New England CAF meets once a month in the flight school building.

"The CAF wants people to see these historical planes up close, smell and hear the live engines, and see them actually fly; not just exhibits inside a museum," said Paul Infantino. "In the near future we will be offering rides at our events. This is just the beginning of our already very active Wing of the Commemorative Air Force events throughout New England and especially New Hampshire."