Flying since the mid-1970s as a private pilot, Jim Tobul of Bamberg began in earnest doing his part to keep the military service of warbirds, their courageous pilots and their legacy alive by joining the airshow circuit in the early ‘80s along with his father, Joe.
He fondly remembers spending countless hours bringing flying history back to life in the hangar he and his dad father dubbed the “Sandbox.” Joe Tobul served in the United States Marines with the attack squadron VMF-231 “Ace of Spades” out of MCAS Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina.
“Being an engineer who designed and built steel mills, Dad took his passion for engineering and turned it into rebuilding and repairing aircraft,” said Jim, who added that they would do whatever was necessary, even fabricate parts as required for the accurate restoration of these magnificent machines. One of their first collaborative efforts, in what Jim recalls as a labor of love, was the 1943 North American SNJ-4.
“We bought the SNJ in 1979-1980, worked on it and had it looking good by 1982. I flew my first airshow and my first Oshkosh,” Jim said, proudly referring to the much-anticipated annual EAA AirVenture event held each July at Wittman Regional Airport in Wisconsin as the largest gathering of aviation enthusiasts in the United States.
As valued as the SNJ-4/Texan/AT-6 tandem military trainer plane has been to the Tobul family, it is the navy blue powerhouse of history referred to as the “Korean War Hero” that has made the most impressive impact not only on their lives, but on the lives of so many she has linked with them through her incredible journey.
In 1981, the Tobuls purchased the nearly completely dismantled Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair and began a dedicated restoration that lasted an entire decade. In 1991, this legendary engineering marvel took to the skies once again. At that time, she roared back into the aviation world with one of the Tobul airmen at the controls as a living extension of this historic warbird. Together, they began a tradition of presenting a spectacle for proud Americans to behold overhead at airshows, allowing attendees to experience the vibrating thunder of her 18-cylinder, 2,650-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine.
Touted by the military as being the first Allied aircraft capable of going head-to-head with the Japanese Zero, this specially designed “bent wing” beauty was constructed as a carrier fighter. The Tobuls’ warbird, now affectionately known as the “Korean War Hero,” flew more than 200 combat missions during the ’50s. Aboard the USS Boxer, she was flown by the “Bitter Birds” of the VF884 Naval Reserve Squadron of Olathe, Kansas, and aboard the USS Valley Forge, she was flown by the “Dragons” in the VF653 Naval Reserve Squadron of Akron, Ohio. From 1960-1970, she flew with the Honduran Air Force as FAH613 and later was purchased by an American Airlines pilot who brought her home to the United States.
After her restoration, with Joe in the Corsair and Jim in the SNJ on his wing, father and son took to the skies during peace time to share their love of aviation, to thrill audiences with the beauty of their warbirds and to express their overwhelming sense of pride in the U.S. military. Over the years, Jim and his father were humbled and honored as opportunities arose to reunite the “Korean War Hero” with many of the servicemen who had piloted her in combat.
Their mission of flying together in aerial demonstrations continued until 2002. When the pair were overflying the Dorn VA Hospital in Columbia to share with the disabled veterans who could not make it to the local airshow event, Joe experienced engine trouble in the Corsair, which resulted in an unavoidable forced landing that sadly took his life.
Six years after the loss of his father, Jim made the heart-guided decision to rebuild the aircraft. Jim recounted that every time he had climbed into the cockpit of the Corsair, he felt a strong personal connection to those who had placed their feet on the rudder pedals before him and now that included his father.
Believing that it is his mission to preserve the aircraft for future generations in remembrance of the airmen who flew her in combat, those who made sacrifices for our freedom and in celebration of his father’s military career and life, he set out to once again restore her to her former glory.
He worked for nearly 18 months, using as many of the original pieces as possible and supplemented the build with spare Corsair parts that he and his dad had accumulated over the years. To avoid taking another decade to get her back into the air, he would enlist the help of WestPac Restorations in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to bring the “Korean War Hero” back to life.
Gazing up at the names in white lettering just beneath the canopy, Jim said that he had his dad’s name right there beside his because it was Joe who taught him to fly the Corsair and who instilled in him a passion for military aviation history.
“I had his name put right there beside mine because every time I am up there, he is always right beside me, flying on my wing,” Jim said.
Fred Orr of Blackville -- son of Burt Orr, who flew a Corsair during World War II -- recounted taking his dad over to the Tobul hangar at Bamberg County Airport on many occasions during the original restoration. Burt and Joe had connected at a meeting of Burt’s Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-224 reunion in Santee. Burt Orr retired from the Marine Reserve as a lieutenant colonel after 27 years of military service.
“Dad just enjoyed supervising and telling Joe what to do to the airplane,” said Fred, who admitted had it not been for the Tobuls rebuilding that particular aircraft, he’s sure their families would not have forged such a lasting bond of friendship that continues to this day.
“It was in 1993 when I went by Joe’s house one day to invite the family to my dad’s 70th birthday party. At the time, I had no idea that he’d want to fly over to surprise my dad,” said Fred, who added that Joe knew how much his dad had loved that plane and insisted on doing something special for him.
After the flyover, Fred took his dad to the airport and recalled the intense joy on his face as the septuagenarian climbed into the familiar cockpit of the fully restored aircraft.
“I looked at him and he had tears in his eyes. I told him, ‘Dad, Marines aren’t supposed to cry,’” Fred said.
His father replied, “Son, when you see your plane, it just does something to you.”
“Dad believed the Corsair to be the best plane flown during World War II. It was in the Corsair that he had flown bombing escort missions along the coast of Japan in the days leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki,” Fred said.
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“Dad received quite a few medals and honors during his military career, but he didn’t talk about that much. When I asked him how he earned those, he told me, ‘I stayed alive,’” he recalled.
Paul Eubanks of Denmark -- who is Bamberg County fire coordinator and a longtime friend of the Tobuls -- shared that when his uncle Bob Sloan was in training at Congaree Marine Air Station, which is now McEntire Joint National Guard Base, he was with the airborne unit learning how to fly the Corsair.
“The men were flying around practicing navigation skills, and there’s a story about him buzzing the Neeley Farm in Denmark. When the family would recount the story, it was always a little funny, and they’d tell how the chickens and cows were so scared that they didn’t get eggs and milk for a few weeks,” Paul remembered.
“The summer before my Uncle Bob passed away, I asked him to tell me about ‘buzzing the farm’ and it was a little different story,” he said.
“Uncle Bob told me that when he rolled out of a nearly inverted dive, all he could do was stand the Corsair on its wingtip and squeeze it between the windmill and an oak tree. His exact words were, ‘When I got a reference of how low I was, I just knew I was going to die,’” said Paul, who estimated his uncle was likely doing over 350 mph at the time and admitted to him that it was a really stupid thing to do.
“He referred to the Corsair as a ‘hot rod,’ a plane that would kill you because it had so much power,” Paul said.
“Uncle Bob met Mr. Joe at the first Boshears Fly-in that was held in Augusta, Georgia, in 1991, and right away standing next to the Tobuls’ two airplanes, the kindred spirits started talking Corsairs. He hadn’t been that close to an airplane in a really long time, and it was emotional -- you could see he was attached to the airplane,” said Paul, who also has a developed a great love for this particular airplane.
Paul had spent many hours working with Joe and Jim on the restoration, enjoyed going to airshows with the Tobuls and continues to enjoy sharing his deep love and knowledge of the Corsair with aviation enthusiasts and others who just want to learn.
“I remember being at one airshow with Mr. Joe, and there were some important corporate types gathered with him around the airplane talking. When a family was walking by with their children, Joe politely excused himself from the men and proceeded over to welcome the children to learn about the airplane,” Paul said.
“He just loved the education aspect and so does Jim,” he said, adding, “You know the prototype of the F4U Corsair that first flew in the late ‘30s was the first airplane to be able to maintain 400 miles an hour in level flight. There were improvements made and by the time the F4U-4 model came out, it could go 460 miles an hour, and they added a four-bladed prop to take advantage of the extra horsepower. It’s a 2,800-cubic-inch engine, with a two-stage turbosupercharger.”
“It has a beautiful rumble to it,” he said reverently.
“There are a lot of wonderful stories about this airplane and a lot of amazing people who we’ve met over the years and the one focal point is this Corsair,” said Jim, regarding his family’s airplane.
Living a dream
Scott Yoak of Aiken, son of Bill Yoak, said he officially met Jim at an airshow at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter about 10 years ago. The Yoak family owns and operates an aircraft restoration facility in Trenton, South Carolina.
“My dad first flew the Corsair as one of the pilots on the popular television show ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ from 1975 to 1977,” said Scott, whose dad wanted him to get checked out in the aircraft.
“Scott’s dad flew a lot of different warbirds and fell in love with our Corsair, so I decided that I am going to be Scott’s instructor pilot and train him so that he can receive his LOA, Letter of Authorization, from the FAA,” said Jim, who shared that the elder Yoak wanted to instruct his son himself but unfortunately passed away before this dream could be realized.
Considering the U.S. Air Force’s Heritage Flights and proud of his connection with the U.S. Navy Legacy Flights which pair up modern tactical fighter aircraft alongside classic warbirds to demonstrate their power, agility and maneuverability in aerial displays, Jim struck up a conversation with Scott at the Wings Over North Georgia airshow in 2013. This discussion led to the creation of the “Class of ‘45.”
Class of ‘45
Scott “Scooter” Yoak flies alongside Jim “Torc” Tobul in an air show flight tribute called “Class of ‘45.” Yoak serves as the pilot-in-command of “Quick Silver,” a North American P-51D Mustang. Both aircraft were built in 1945 and both are proven outstanding examples of military aviation technology from the era of World War II and the Korean War.
“These aircraft did nothing short of save the world, preserving democracy. We have an unrivaled passion for these warbirds, and we feel it’s an honor to pass on the legacy of the young men and women who flew to protect our freedom,” Yoak said.
According to their dedicated website, their mission is “to preserve and honor the service of American military men and women, both now and then. In flying these legendary machines, we remember their service, their contributions, and our obligation to never let their sacrifices be in vain.”
There are three more opportunities on the 2019 tour to see these aircraft in formation flight and hear the mighty roar of the engines of the “Class of ‘45”: NAS JAX Air & Sea, Oct. 26-27, Jacksonville, Florida; Stuart Air Show, Nov. 1-3, Stuart, Florida; and Warbirds Over Monroe, Nov. 9-10, Monroe, North Carolina.
For more information on the “Class of ’45,” visit http://classof45.com/.
For more information on the Tobuls’ Corsair, visit www.koreanwarhero.com.