Two World War II planes take off from Modesto Airport

There are less than 50 airworthy Vultee BT-13s in the United States; two of them were at the Modesto Airport on Friday.

One of the planes – they were used as Army Air Corps training planes during World War II – was based in Modesto during the war. The other was based in Waco, Texas, but rebuilt recently in Modesto.

“They were the underdog of WW II, but they were right up there with the big boys … they held their place, rightfully so, and didn’t get the recognition until these days when they are just so rare,” said Jason Reid, who spent the last five years restoring a BT-13 that was in pieces when he bought it, spread between three hangars at the Modesto Airport.

Reid, who lives in the Bay Area, rebuilt the plane in Modesto after securing hangar space at the local airport.

Nearly 12,000 BT-13s were manufactured; however, after the war, they were sold off as surplus for $250 to $300, most often relieved of their propellers and engines to be put on crop-dusters.

“You can still find skeletons of these airframes out by farmland,” said Alex Esguerra of San Mateo, who pilots the BT-13 that once was based in Modesto. “They’d take the engine off, put it on the crop-duster and send the rest out to pasture.”

It’s likely both of these planes are the last left of the fleet at their respective airports.

“There were stories from old-timers out here that there were people lined up, chopping them up with hacksaws,” Reid said.

Reid’s plane has been restored with its original paint job. If you were outside in Modesto on Friday evening, you probably heard it rumbling overhead, and if you looked up, you could see its bright blue underbelly and yellow wings.

The BT-13 Esguerra flies is mostly bare metal.

“This one looks like it just came out factory-fresh,” Esguerra said of Reid’s plane.

“And this one looks like it has been flying since 1941,” Reid joked of the other.

Both planes were recently restored after being out of service for some 70 years. The plane Esguerra flies was previously in a museum in Oakland, and Reid got a chance to sit in it when he was considering buying his BT-13.

The two met online through a mutual friend but met in person when Esguerra flew to Modesto from Palo Alto on Friday. Then the two “warbirds” took off for a flight over Modesto.

Esguerra and Reid hope to see each other again in May to get the planes together for a Women Airforce Service Pilots reunion in Texas.