Wings of Freedom

Today’s title comes from an annual national tour of WW II aircraft by The Collings Foundation. They fly a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, and a P-51 Mustang (and sometimes a B-25 Mitchell, too!) around the country to keep alive the memory of World War II and The Greatest Generation. I have flown in the B-17 and the B-25. The Liberator doesn’t interest me (I think it’s an ugly airplane, although it was a mainstay of the European bombing campaigns), and I can’t afford the P-51.

Flying in these planes was a joy to me. I’ve always liked old iron – planes, steam trains, old cars, old speedboats – and I indulge myself whenever I can. When I flew in the B-17 (in 2004), I actually stuck my head out of the upper hatch in the “radio shack” and took photos of the plane from the outside! Of course, I couldn’t breathe when I faced forward – have you ever tried to breathe in a 160-mph wind? – but the flight was fantastic! Here’s a shot of the tail from that flight:

20 B-17 radio hatch aft

In 2007, I gave Toni a ride in the B-25 for her birthday (of course, I went along too!). The cheaper seats were in the aft part of the fuselage, but the more expensive (and more fun) seats were right behind the pilot and copilot. After takeoff, we were allowed to unbuckle and crawl through the tunnel to the nose position, where we sat grinning like kids until the bell rang and recess was over – I mean, we had to return to our seats for landing. One of the coolest things of that flight was when we helped “push the props through” – meaning we grabbed the propeller blades and rotated them (and the engine’s crankshaft) to clear the cylinders of accumulated oil:


Once in the air, we pretended to be the bombardier / nose gunner:


Flying is a lot different when there’s only a quarter-inch or so of Plexiglas between you and the world!

I was reminded of these flights yesterday when I went to Marana to check on the progress of the JeepMonster. Back in 2004 and 2007, the Collings Foundation had flown into Tucson International, but for the past few years they’ve been using Marana Regional as their local base of operations when they visit. I hadn’t paid attention to their schedule, so I didn’t know that this past weekend was their visit for 2015 until I rode by the airport. When I was done at R&W, I stopped at the airport to see the P-51 (it hadn’t been on tour back in ’04 or ’07). Sadly, it wasn’t in Marana this past weekend, either. The gentleman who took my admission money said it had a couple of mechanical issues and was being repaired. The B-25 wasn’t there this year, either. Apparently it’s on loan to “the Doolittle Museum,” although what they meant was The Doolittle Center in Fairfield, CA.

In addition to the Liberator and Flying Fortress, there was a small WW II encampment on site. The encampment featured several period-correct vehicles, both US and German, and an exhibit of typical GI equipment and supplies from the War:




As I wandered around the planes, I saw a small group talking to an older gentleman. As I got close enough to hear the conversation, I learned that he had been a belly-turret gunner, and he was explaining to the group which gunner had responsibility for what airspace. He said his responsibility was from the horizon down (duh!) and from the right wing back to the tail, although the turret would rotate 360 degrees. So I snapped a shot of him:


It’s amazing that these planes still fly. They’re 70 years old, or older, and have to be inspected very rigorously in order to take passengers. Maintenance, fuel and supplies cost about $4000 per flight hour. But a 30-minute ride, even at $450 per person, is *so* worth it!

Here’s a parting shot of Nine-O-Nine:


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