WISCASSET – Tom Weatherby, 88, hobbled toward the side of the Japanese AM6 Zero fighter plane.

He closed his eyes and touched the red, rising-sun Japanese symbol painted onto the side of the aircraft. The plane’s cream-colored metal sparkled in the midafternoon sun.

“I saw one of these blow up in the Pacific in 1944,” said Weatherby, a World War II Army veteran, his hands and voice slightly trembling. “I haven’t seen one again in 70 years since.”

Weatherby and about 1,000 others flooded the Wiscasset Municipal Airport on Saturday to see the public display of six World War II aircraft owned by the Texas Flying Legends.

The nonprofit group based in Houston, Texas, has stored the planes in Wiscasset since July 26, and are considering making Maine their permanent summer home, said Chris Griffith, a Maine native and the group’s president.

Curt Huntoon, 75, who drove from Cape Elizabeth for Saturday’s open house, described the planes as “national monuments.”

“These are one of the major weapons that helped us secure victory in the war,” said Huntoon, a Korean War veteran who builds model planes. “It’s great to see them here in Maine.”

Many of those who turned out, like Weatherby and Huntoon, were veterans. Attendees marveled at the pristine flying machines — some of which are worth several million dollars — which have been restored to perfect flying condition. These particular aircraft are rarities, Griffith said.

There are only two flying Japanese Zeros left in the world. There are also only about a dozen P-40 K Warhawk aircraft, one of which the Legends displayed.

Griffith said Maine’s Second Congressional District has more veterans per capita than any other district in the United States. He was delighted that so many veterans and children turned out to see the aircraft.

“We do this to honor the heroes, and inspire the younger generation,” said Griffith, an exuberant man and longtime pilot who wears his love for Maine on his sleeve. He pointed toward a man with a cane admiring one of the planes. “That’s who we do this for,” he said.

Although the group has shown off the aircraft to anyone at the Wiscasset Municipal Airport this month, this was the first organized open house. It preceded the Legends’ air show late Saturday afternoon at the Shipyard Cup, a regatta in Boothbay Harbor.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the crowd at the airport watched the pilots start up the antique planes and zip off into a cloudless blue sky.

“They’re gorgeous,” said Dave Thomas, 74, a Navy veteran from Mexico, Maine. “You hear them and it’s unlike any other sound — it makes your heart race.

“It’s a thrill to hear those big engines,” said Dave’s brother, Jim, 79. “After World War II, they destroyed most of these planes. It was symbolic, I guess, but it’s sad. … So it’s a treat to see these.”

The open house had a party atmosphere. Food trucks selling barbecue sandwiches and ice cream set up at the front of the airport. Big Band classics like “Chattanooga Choo Choo” crooned from speakers set up in a nearby hangar.

Nearly everyone had cameras, snapping photos of the planes and of loved ones. Many people seemed to really enjoy Betty’s Dream, a B-25J bomber with a shark’s head painted on its front.

A lot of people ducked their head to inspect the base of the plane and get a look at the fake but realistic-looking bombs in the plane’s storage area.

The planes will stay in Wiscasset through Oct. 2, although they will make brief visits to Biddeford, Rhode Island and other New England locations. At year’s end, the nonprofit will decide if it will make Maine its permanent summer home, and if so, in what airport it will be based.

Wherever they end up, the Legends would like to build a large hangar and permanent museum to house the planes, Griffith said. Two of the Legends’ biggest benefactors, Houston philanthropists Ed and Marie Bosarge, have a summer home on Southport Island near the harbor.

At Saturday’s festivities. Justine Black, 8, sat under the Aleutian Tiger, a P-40K Warhawk aircraft that battled the Nazis on the Eastern Front.The plane is green with a yellow tiger’s face painted on its front.

“I’m going to be a U.S. fighter pilot one day,” Black said, sporting a wide grin.

Her brother, 17, remarked that United States doesn’t have any fighter pilots anymore.

Said Black, “That’s only because they haven’t seen me fly yet.”

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or at:

jsinger@mainetoday.com